Top 3 Things You Should Know About Stem Cells

Over the years, the practice of medicine has made incredible advances. New surgeries and medications save lives every day. One area of medicine that holds tremendous future potential is the use of stem cells to help the body heal itself.

What Are Stem Cells?

You have stem cells in many parts of your body. They’re cells that have the ability to develop into other types of cells. They’re part of your body’s built-in repair system.

When a stem cell divides, the two new cells are called daughter cells. One daughter can be another stem cell and continue to reproduce over and over. The other daughter can become another more specialized type of cell.

On a limited basis, your stem cells can replace cells that are lost or damaged by injury or disease.

In adults, stem cells are tissue specific. That means they normally replace one specific type of tissue. For example, a stem cell in your:

  • Bone marrow makes two types of stem cells. One type makes new red or white blood cells. The other type is mesenchymal stem cells. These cells can self-renew by dividing.
  • Brain makes new neurons and cells that help them do their work.
  • Mesenchymal (bone marrow derived) can differentiate into muscle, bone, tendon, ligament and articular cartilage (the smooth white tissue covering the ends of bones where they meet to form joints – this cartilage can be injured or wear with age).
  • Skin helps your wounds heal.

Stem cells even help fertilized eggs grow into babies (and babies ultimately into adults).

How We’re Expanding Stem Cells Repair Abilities — Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine studies how we can use new approaches such as stem cells to expand the body’s self-healing capabilities to repair unhealthy or damaged tissues and organs.

Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is already a biologic treatment that can be an effective option for certain orthopedic or sports injuries of joints such as the shoulder, elbow or knee.

PRP involves concentrating the blood to a platelet-rich concentrate. This substance has growth factors that can facilitate healing. PRP has been used in tendons, ligaments and injected into joints. 

Similarly, bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) has similar growth factors and a limited number of stem cells. The non-surgical BMAC treatment helps patients with certain joint conditions. 

PRP and BMAC have been injected into joints with focal cartilage defects (damage to the articular cartilage) and other cases with arthritis. The early results have been encouraging with focal cartilage defects. Better results have been seen in patients under age 45 with small defects and few defects. 

PRP and BMAC have provided relief in early-to-moderate arthritis. These treatments have not offered relief to advanced arthritis. 

BMAC is harvested from the bone marrow in a patient’s hip, or can be aspirated from other bones (drawn out using suction). The BMAC is then injected into the damaged shoulder, elbow or knee. The growth factors can facilitate healing, and stem cells from the marrow adapt and may create cells for the joint. 

I’ve been using PRP and BMAC for several years to enhance surgical outcomes. Several Aurora clinics are offering PRP and BMAC to treat tendon, ligament and joint problems.

Research is in the early stages of stem cell injections to treat chronic tendon problems and repair articular cartilage in arthritic joints. More research is necessary to determine the safety and success of these injections, especially for advanced arthritis. 

Stem cell clinics are opening in many locations, but be aware that they typically charge high fees.

What’s Next in Stem Cell Research?

Studying stem cells may help us better understand how serious conditions such as birth defects and cancer develop.

Research into stem cells may also help us find new therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and spinal cord injuries.

Researchers continue their efforts to unveil more ways for stem cells to help people heal. As we find new treatments, we all benefit from more healthful communities.

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Meet the Author

Gerard G. Adler, MD is an orthopedics surgeon at the Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Summit, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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