Turning Back the Clock: Harnessing the Power of Stem Cells
Are you ready to unlock the secret to a longer and healthier life? It’s a desire that’s shared by many; yet often dismissed as a pipe dream. However, with the latest breakthroughs in science and technology, regenerative medicine is no longer the stuff of science fiction. One area of particular interest is the power of stem cells which hold enormous potential for enhancing our healthspan. In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the incredible world of stem cells; and explore the cutting-edge research that’s bringing us closer to a future where regeneration is within our grasp.
The Origin Of Stem Cells
Let’s take a trip inside our bodies and explore the fascinating world of stem cells! Did you know that all the cells in our body originated from a single cell called the zygote? It’s true! And that single cell went on to create a special group of cells called pluripotent stem cells that have the power to differentiate into any type of cell in the body.
As these pluripotent stem cells grow and divide, they specialize into specific cells, like muscle cells or nerve cells. Unfortunately, this specialization comes at a cost. They lose their pluripotency and can no longer generate other types of cells. But don’t worry, this is a natural process that helps our bodies form all the amazing tissues and organs we have!
Now, here’s where things get exciting. Scientists are exploring how we can use stem cells to regenerate or repair damaged tissues and organs. That means we might one day be able to regrow damaged organs or even regrow limbs. Yes, we’re talking about starfish-like superpowers. Cool right?
Stem cells are like the superheroes of our bodies with the potential power to repair injuries, such as a broken bone (and also fight diseases like cancer). Got your attention? Let’s continue then.
Where Can We Find Stem Cells?
Stem cells are essential for our development and are at their strongest during early developmental stages. However, we don’t just have stem cells during early development. We also have them in our adult bodies; although their numbers are low and they become weaker as we age.
During the blastocyst stage, pluripotent cells are found and show the highest potential for generating any type of cell in the body. But here’s the good news. In the last few decades, scientists have identified different kinds of stem cells that we can find throughout our bodies! These stem cells can be grouped according to their origin and include:
- Embryonic Stem Cells: These are cells that come from early embryos (specifically a stage called the blastocyst). These cells are usually obtained from embryos that are left over from in vitro fertilization procedures. These special cells have a lot of potential because they can turn into any type of cell in the body. That means they can be used to create all kinds of organs and tissues. However, getting these cells means destroying the embryo they come from;
- Umbilical cord stem cells: These cells are isolated from the umbilical cord at the moment of birth. And, although they don’t have as much potential as the embryonic stem cells, their harvest is relatively easy and safer;
- Adult Stem Cells: These are the cells that are isolated from adult tissues; for example, muscle, fat tissue, and bone marrow. They have limited pluripotency. Therefore, they can only generate cells from the specific tissues where they were isolated from (aka: progenitor cells). Thus, they are better suited for repairing damaged tissues.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC): Unlike the previous examples, iPSC are not found in nature. They’re actually made in a lab by scientists using regular (somatic) cells, like skin or blood cells. The incredible part is that these iPSCs can do many of the same things as embryonic stem cells (meaning they have a lot of potential for medical research and treatments).
The Importance Of Stem Cells
As you can see, it is possible to obtain stem cells from different sources. We can even create them from “regular” cells. But, why should we care about the origin of stem cells?
The reason why the origin of stem cells matters for personalized medicine is because of our immune system. As we discussed in previous articles, personalized treatments are designed specifically for an individual. This is why stem cells from another person can’t be used. And because the immune system will attack them (or any tissue or organ generated from them). It’s similar to the risk of organ rejection after a transplant from a donor. However, let’s say we can generate a kidney in the lab with our own cells . The rejection would not be an issue because we are the donor. This is called autologous transplantation which is one of the main applications of stem cell treatments in pilot studies , . Umbilical cord stem cells stored in banks are becoming popular for this reason. As they provide a backup for future treatments. But if you don’t have your umbilical cord stem cells stored, what options are there?
Don’t worry. As we have discussed before, our bodies have adult stem cells. These cells are present in our bodies to help the body regenerate in case of injury and to maintain tissue renewal , , . However, like us, these cells become less effective as they become old (aka: senescent); and lose their ability to maintain the normal function of a tissue or organ . For example, the hair changes we endure through life are due to the hair follicle’s stem cell (HFSC) niche losing its ability to regenerate , . When there are no longer stem cells present in the niche, we say that we have reached stem cell exhaustion (which is a hallmark of aging ). Therefore, if we prolong the quality of adult stem cells in our bodies, we can benefit from more years of natural regeneration ability from our bodies .
Current Legal Applications Of Stem Cells
Unfortunately, this is where we begin to see some limitations. There is no question that this field has tremendous potential. But, we need to bear in mind that stem cell research is a relatively new field. And even though it’s growing by the day, there are many financial interests that dictate what gets studied and published. To date, from the official clinical trials portal, only about 0.25 percent of clinical trials reached and completed the last phase of the trials.
The good news is that we already have some pretty solid evidence for certain conditions. So much so that the FDA has approved the use of stem cells to treat hematological disorders, like leukemia . And, in Europe, a treatment using stem cells has also been approved by European Medicines Agency (EMA) to treat eye injuries caused by burns or chemical burns.
In some other countries, outside the US and the European Union, stem cells are being used to combat aging. And there have been promising anecdotal results in using stem cells for anti-aging purposes.
This clinical approach focuses on the senescent cells we touched on earlier. Since these cells stopped dividing (and are essentially “stuck” in the body), they are thought to contribute to aging and disease. However, by introducing stem cells into the body, they can seek out and eliminate senescent cells; promoting tissue rejuvenation and reducing the risk of age-related diseases.
Another aspect of aging that stem cell therapy can potentially address is stem cell exhaustion and death. By introducing new stem cells into the body, stem cell therapy may help reverse these processes and promote tissue regeneration.
Interestingly, plasma treatments are also being used in conjunction with stem cell therapy in regenerative medicine. Plasma treatments involve taking a patient’s own blood, processing it to concentrate platelets and growth factors, and then injecting it back into the body. These treatments may enhance the effectiveness of stem cell therapy by providing a growth factor-rich environment that promotes tissue regeneration.
The legal landscape around stem cell therapy varies greatly from country to country. And it is essential to research the regulations in your area before pursuing treatment. But, as research continues to advance, we may see stem cell therapy become an increasingly common tool in the fight against aging and age-related diseases, in most countries.
Current Supported Evidence And Clinical Concerns
Scientists and doctors are actively testing thousands of new approaches and treatments worldwide. We can find treatments in development for diabetes, heart failure, multiple myeloma, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and liver cirrhosis to name a few . So, we can rightfully expect that the near future will bring new amazing solutions.
Until then, there are technical and ethical challenges to overcome. The first technical challenge is that we still need to develop standard regulated procedures that can be applied anywhere to guarantee safety while using these cells. The second, is that, since these cells can form anything in our body, they can also form cancer (specifically teratoma); which is a problem that remains to be completely cracked.,,
Finally we also have ethical concerns. Many have been very vocal against the use of embryonic stem cells (since these imply the destruction of the fertilized egg). However, as presented before, there are other types of stem cells that can be used.
Independently of the type of stem cells used, there are, of course, the individuals who believe that by manipulating our biology we are “trying to play God”. And that we are going against nature.
This topic can become controversial and justifying. Any of the perceptions would start a complex philosophical discussion that goes beyond the goal of this article. We’ll just leave you with one thought: Choosing a good diet, making good lifestyle choices, and even taking meds when something hurts, are all manipulating our biology. So, why are we making this huge deal out of stem cells?
The potential of stem cells is truly mind-boggling. And scientists are working hard to unlock all of their secrets. But, their use in regenerative medicine is still in its infancy. We still need to learn a lot more about the potential of these cells. We know that they have the potential to work and improve our human condition exponentially. But we should advance carefully because they are also ticking bombs that can “explode” if not explored with proper caution.
So, while we learn and work on how to safely use stem cells to our benefit, we can imagine the great opportunities that they can bring to medicine (and to improve our lives). With stem cells, we may be able to live longer, healthier lives and even do some amazing things, such as regrow limbs. So, let’s raise a glass to these tiny superheroes and all of the amazing things they could do for our health and wellbeing!
If you enjoyed this article, you will absolutely love Dr. De’s webinar with Dr. Giampapa. They discuss stem cells in depth and they share some mind blowing findings. You will not want to miss it.
So what can we do when all these tests miss something?
In that case, when the nature of the problem calls for it, imaging tests are next in line. Some are more invasive than others, yet they allow us to explore what is going on in the organs or systems. For example, in the case of gastrointestinal disease, we can begin by doing more superficial tests such as intestinal hyperpermeability tests, before going into an MRI or a Colonoscopy.
As you can see, modern technology allowed us to make huge leaps in diagnostic testing. However, the traditional medical approach is not taking full advantage of all the technology that we have at our disposal. That is why we should all take responsibility for our health and look for physicians that understand the importance of comprehensive data.
With proper and frequent diagnostic testing, you will never be caught off guard.
If you want to learn more about this topic and learn about other diagnostic tests we could not mention here, click the button below to check this week’s video lecture.
As always, if you have questions about stem cells or any other therapy to increase your healthspan and lifespan, get in touch with us.
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Marcos de Andrade MD, MBA
Chief Executive Officer