Engage in a discussion about stem cell therapy and you could find yourself in an emotionally charged situation. Stem cell therapy might be the most controversial topic in medicine today, but the controversy spreads beyond medicine and crosses into political and religious beliefs. Much of the contention is the result of incorrect and misleading information due to personal bias; this has slowed and, in some cases, stopped the critical research necessary to advance this field of medicine.
Cell research started in the mid-1800s when researchers discovered that cells were the building blocks of life. By the 1950s and 1960s, physicians had performed almost 200 allogeneic stem cell transplants in humans but without long term success. Then in the late 1960s, stem cells were being used successfully in bone marrow transplants to treat immune deficiency, aplastic anemia and leukemia.
Unfortunately, in the 1970’s, stem cell research slowed as it became connected with the political and ethical issues of both abortion and human cloning. No federal law completely banned stem cell research in the United States. But, the restrictions on funding and use limited government supported research. Political parties continue to disagree about how to fund stem cell research. Billions of dollars are allocated each year by the US federal government for biomedical research, but some legislators argue these dollars should not be spent on funding research that some people believe is unethical. Lawmakers continue to argue about what laws are needed to control embryonic stem cell research while allowing research on other types of stem cells. This has slowed the advancement of all stem cell research in a country that is usually a world leader in medical research.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) controls pharmaceutical drug studies; however, stem cells are neither a pharmaceutical drug or a food product and should be exempt from FDA mandates. In August of 2017 the FDA declared stem cells to be a drug and announced they would be implementing increased controls over stem cell use. The goal of the FDA is to ensure patients are protected and that is important. Unfortunately, due to complicated regulations and high demand, it can take many years to get a study approved through the FDA which frustrates the investigators and slows the advancement of stem cell research.
The limitation of government funded research led companies and clinics to privately fund the research in the United States and worldwide. Researchers from Latin America, South Korea, China and India are leading the advancement of stem cell research. The advantage has been that stem cell research has progressed with data showing benefit in patients with chronic pain, serious and difficult to heal injuries, neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease and diabetes. The disadvantage has been that the studies are smaller due to limited funding and patient access. Unfortunately, for patients, it is difficult to know which sources to trust, and how to separate the facts from the myths.
7 myths of stem cell therapy:
Myth #1: Stem Cell Therapy is unsafe
False: The Stem Cells Transplant Institute is a government approved and JCI accredited stem cell clinic; ensuring strict quality control and the safest best practices. We only use autologous adipose derived adult stem cells eliminating both the risk of rejection and the risk contracting a transmittable infectious disease from a donor patient. Like any minor procedure, there is a very small risk of infection at the site where the fat is collected, and at the injection site, but we minimize that small risk by practicing in strict sterile conditions.
Myth #2: Stem cell research is unethical
False: Stem cell research, like any field of biomedicine, can pose ethical concerns and the professionals at the Stem Cells Transplant Institute take these concerns very seriously. We only use adult mesenchymal stem cells which are present in every tissue and organ throughout the body. We use adipose derived adult stem cells because adipose tissue contains the largest amount of stem cells, has been shown in clinical trials to be effective for treating many diseases, and can be collected with minimal discomfort to the patient.
Myth #3: Stem cell therapy requires a human embryo
False: Since the 1970s embryonic stem cell research has created social and ethical concerns about stem cell research, but other sources of stem cells include the umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells, derived from bone marrow and adipose tissue. The professionals at the Stem Cells Transplant Institute use the patient’s own stem cells for all stem cell therapy.
With alternative sources the ethical debate for stem cells is becoming less relevant; however, some researchers argue it is important to continue to research all types of stem cells including embryonic.
Myth #4: Stem cell therapy is unproven
False: There are a number of studies that have been published demonstrating positive results from stem cell therapies for diseases including; neurodegenerative disease, chronic inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. US, regulatory and administrative controls continue to impede the advancement of stem cell research in the United States so a lot of the data supporting stem cell therapy is coming from other countries. Some people within the U.S. believe only data from the U.S. is valid but this is false. Stem cell therapy has been shown to:
- Shorten healing time
- Reduce pain and the need for anti-inflammatory and pain medication
- Increase muscle strength
- Increase range of motion and flexibility
- Decrease nerve damage
- Increase collagen production
- Help build new heart and blood vessel tissue and improve blood flow
- Help heal skin wounds and prevent the formation of scar tissue
- Improve cognitive function
- Improve sleep and increase energy
Myth #5: Stem cell therapy will cost $10,000- $40,000, maybe more
False: While some clinics will take advantage of patients seeking treatment for chronic and debilitating disease, clinics like the Stem Cells Transplant Institute in Costa Rica want to improve the quality of life of all patients and provide stem cell therapy for much less. It is important for patients to fully research any health care provider to make sure the clinic provides high quality care at a reasonable price.
Myth #6: Stem cell therapy is the miracle cure
Facts: The power of stem cells is amazing and stem cell therapy is an alternative treatment that can benefit many patients, but it is not a miracle cure. Like any treatment, pharmaceutical or surgical, patient results will vary and not all patients are appropriate candidates for stem cell therapy. The professionals at the Stem Cells Transplant Institute have helped many patients suffering from debilitating health problems improve their quality of life. Stem cell therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical, natural treatment that should be explored but no medical treatment is 100% effective. It is important for the physician to educate the patient on what he or she can expect from the treatment and for both the patient and the physician to have realistic goals and expectations.
Despite regulatory and financial restrictions, stem cell therapy is a promising field of medicine. Dr. Mesen, the founder and Chief Medical Officer at the Stem Cells Transplant Institute, has a passion for helping patients and has built the clinic on a foundation of research, scientific innovation and individualized patient care. His goal is to improve the quality of life of every patient he treats. Contact us today to learn if stem cell therapy is right for you.