Things to Know About Stem Cell Treatment

Stem Cell Treatment

In the last decades, many doctors have suggested their patients to undergo a stem cell treatment for treating a chronic and incurable disease. However, there are still many myths and facts about stem cells that you must know before agreeing to undergo the stem cell treatment.

It must be said that to understand how stem cell therapy works it is necessary to understand their important role in the human body. So, stem cells can be defined as basic components that can differentiate themselves into many types of specialized cells according to the body's needs.

As stem cell treatment is relatively new, there are still many myths about it that are very important to clarify, including the following:

- Stem cell treatment is effective for all diseases: Unfortunately, this asseveration is false. To date, the list of diseases in which stem cell treatment has been proved to be successful is very short. The mostly studied and accredited diseases to be treated with stem cells are blood and immune system diseases (including leukemia and Fanconi anemia).

Likewise, stem cell treatment is currently highly recommended to recover the blood cells and the immunological system after aggressive cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy). In both indications, the experts recommend using the hematopoietic or blood stem cells.

Another important use of the stem cell treatment, which is currently approved, is to treat the skin stem cells. They have been successfully used since the 80's to improve the growth of skin grafts, especially in patients who have suffered from severe and expense burns and have required the use of grafts.

Finally, in Europe, the stem cells treatment to repair the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) has also been approved. At this point, it is very important to say that many other uses of stem cell therapy have not yet been approved by the health organisms. However, there are many clinical trials in process that offer promising results in terms of stem cell therapy treatment for other diseases.

Among these diseases, macular degeneration, neurological diseases (including, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis and motor neuron disease), spinal cord injuries, Diabetes, myocardial infarction, injuries in the cartilages or tendons, among others can be included.

- All the stem cells are the same: This sentence is completely false. There are 04 types of stem cells and each one of those types of stem cells has its own capacity to differentiate in other types of cells, and they are obtained from different sources.

The Embryonic stem cells are obtained from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. The Tissue-specific stem cells are also called adult stem cells, and it can be difficult to find them in the human body. The Mesenchymal stem cells, commonly known as MSCs, are isolated from the stroma (the connective tissue that surrounds other tissues and organs), so they can be obtained from many tissues, such as the bone marrow, fat and cord blood. Finally, the Induced Pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are a type of stem cells designed in a laboratory, which helps to transform tissue-specific cells in other types of cells.

- Umbilical cord stem cells can be frozen to be used later if needed: This fact is true. Experts have demonstrated that stem cells can be cryopreserved, which means that they are frozen and stored in cell banks to be used even years later by the person from whom they were obtained or even by another compatible person.

This kind of stem cell is widely used in the treatment of blood cancers in children. However, the use of umbilical cord stem cells in adults is still limited because the number of stem cells that can be obtained from cord blood is usually insufficient to treat severe adult diseases 

- Umbilical cord stem cell treatments are safer than bone marrow stem cells treatments: This asseveration is partially true. Cordon stem cells have a great advantage, which is the fact that they are less likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system. However, for this to be totally true, the blood of the donor (cord blood) must be compatible with the blood of the receptor (patient's blood).

Triggering an immune response in an adult by using any type of stem cells can cause severe consequences and complications, including death.

- Umbilical cord stem cells are more powerful than blood stem cells: To the date, this fact is very controversial and debatable. With this sentence, many experts refer to the fact that blood stem cells can only be used to treat blood diseases, while umbilical cord blood stem cells have the potential to differentiate themselves in many types of specialized stem cells, related or not with the blood.

However, the mesenchymal stem cells obtained from the bone marrow can differentiate themselves mainly in bone, cartilage and fat cells.

Many experts in stem cell treatment also say that no treatment with MSCs has proven through clinical trials to be effective, while other studies (focused on the efficiency of MSCs repairing damaged blood vessels) say that they can be very useful to treat heart attacks and critical ischemia of the lower extremities (and its consequences). 

Finally, certain studies support that MSCs can have an important effect on the immune response by reducing inflammation, improving the symptoms of autoimmune diseases and improving the acceptance of certain organs transplantation. However, these uses are still under research.

- Stem cell treatment has no complications: Although to the date it has proved to be pretty safe, and most side effects experienced during a stem cell treatment are a consequence of prior treatments (such as chemotherapy or radiation), there are certain complications that the patient can experience.

Among the most common stem cell treatment side effects, mouth and throat pain, mucositis (inflammation or sores in the mouth), nausea and vomiting, infection, bleeding and need for transfusions, interstitial pneumonitis and other lung problems, Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), among others, can be included.

Remember that the medical team that will be involved in the stem cell treatment will know a lot about your disease or condition, the possibility of undergoing another kind of treatments and the evidence that supports the probability that stems cell treatment will work. So, you must consult any doubt with them.

Dr. Curt Collins