I’m pretty sure you must have had a friend of yours talk about cell therapy. Listening to them, cell therapy appears to be the be-all and end-all and cell therapy products the cure-all for any physical or mental ill that one may be suffering. You might have been taking their words with a pinch of salt. But are you not curious about their claims? Are these cell therapy products real? How much of what your friends say is true? The question on your mind is…
What is cell therapy?
First, let’s have a cell therapy definition. Simply speaking, cell therapy is a branch of treating illnesses that involves injecting cell-based matter (which are packaged as cell therapy products) into a human body. What is the principle behind it? To understand that, first we have to tackle the terms “replication” and “differentiation”. Just after fertilization, all cells of the newly formed zygote are more or less identical. Each and every single one of the cells undergoes cell division to produce more cells that look like it. This is cell replication. After a while (and with some input from signaling factors), some of these cells begin to change to resemble cells that don’t look like them. Some change into muscle cells, bone cells, blood cells, and so on. This is called cell differentiation. Those earlier undifferentiated cells are called stem cells (the imagery compelling you to think of differentiated cells as branch cells). Now, even after differentiation has occurred, not every stem cell differentiates. Some keep their potential so they can serve as a regenerative backup in case the body’s cells get destroyed or damaged.
The principle of most of the various cell therapies and cell therapy products we know is this. In the case of destruction or inactivation of a group of differentiated cells in a human being, stem cells can be identified either in the same person or in another person. Unlike organ transplants where HLA compatibility is important, stem cells are not rejected, no matter the donor.
When these cells are introduced to the disease site in the form of cell therapy products, they begin to replicate and differentiate. Replication increases their number, while differentiation converts them to tissues due to the production of various factors or hormones. The production of factors which for now have been deficient leads to the resolution of the disease condition.
What goals can be achieved with cell therapy?
There are a lot of disease conditions that can be cured, or at least made manageable by the use of stem cell treatment. I will try to place them into categories and explain why cell therapy products can help.
Nowadays, scientists are saying that most diseases have a genetic component. But beyond that, some diseases are primarily due to mutations in a single gene or a group of genes. Such diseases include but are not limited to:
1. Marfan’s syndrome.
2. Osteogenesis imperfecta.
3. Sickle cell anemia.
4. Huntington’s disease.
In these diseases, it could either be that due to some genetic malformations, the cells cannot produce their gene products. It could also be that they produce abnormal products. Either way, the use of cell therapy products can replace these dysfunctional cells and help cure the disease or improve the condition.
A large number of immunological disorders are due to a hyperactive immune system and autoreactive T-cells. In this case, the body attacks itself. Cell therapy products can help. Transfer of a stem cell product can lead to the production of factors that act in a paracrine manner to modulate the activities of the body’s white blood cells. This way, the immunological disorder slowly fades away.
In cases where we are transplanting organs and want to avoid transplant rejection, it has been found that sometimes inoculating the patient with cell therapy products can prepare him to deal with the transplant, and drastically reduce the risk of rejection.
The problem with heart attacks is this. When heart tissue dies, it does not grow back. The tissue is dead, and that is final. Or this is what we would have said before the advent of cell therapy products. Now, stem cells can treatment can be used to produce cardiac myocytes that can fill up the non-functional gap left by the heart attack.
Also, after a stroke, it used to be that dead brain tissue is hopeless. But cell therapy products have come to the rescue. Now, these cell therapy products can lead to the regeneration of lost brain tissue.
From amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to Alzheimer’s, cell therapy products are very useful in diseases caused by the wear and tear of brain matter. These cell therapy products will form new cells to replace the aging and tired ones, leading to the relief of the disease.
The use of cell therapy products is not so clear here. But see it this way. A lot of cancers are associated with a suppressed immune system (although some are due to a hyperproliferative immune system). Cell therapy products can help in the production of B cells and T cells which can identify the cancer cells as foreign and destroy them.
Arthritis / Sports injuries:
From disorders arising from bone grinding against bone to muscle sprains and damage to ligaments and tendons, cell therapy products can act to limit inflammation and lead to proper wound repair and connective tissue restructuring.
There are a host of diseases with strange names that are rare and don’t match any of my categories. These conditions still respond to cell therapy products. Check out a stem cell clinic such as Swiss Medica for more details on how to get improvement for hard-to-treat diseases with the help of cell-based treatment.
What cell therapy products are currently in use?
Once upon a time, people used cell therapy products made of extracts from animal testicles. I’m relieved those days are far behind us. Now, let’s look at three proven cell therapy products that have been developed by scientists in the world’s laboratories and are currently in use.
Multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)
These cell therapy products are remnants from mesenchyme, which is the embryonic connective tissue. In practice, they are often derived from an adult’s bone marrow, fat tissue or placenta and purified. Their use as cell therapy products has a wide range of applications, including conditions involving bone, muscle, or cartilage dysfunction, cardiovascular injuries, spinal cord damage and autoimmune diseases. A disadvantage, as noted in this study, could be that the stem cells themselves could have a mild proarrhythmic effect.
Stromal vascular fraction (SVF):
A lot of sources see this group of cell therapy products as the same with MSCs. But instead of marrow, these cell therapy products are produced by purifying fat. They contain pericytes that surround blood vessels, white blood cells, stromal cells, and even some MSCs. However, as cell therapy products, they do not have as wide a range of applications as MSCs. Their uses include cases ranging from wound healing angiogenesis to alopecia. They also don’t need to be cultured, unlike MSCs. A disadvantage is that they may sometimes lose that innate stem cell ability to differentiate into varying tissues when used as cell therapy products.
To many schools of thought, these cell therapy products are already differentiated. To other schools, they are still multipotent. All schools, however, agree that they synthesize collagen and ground substance that helps keep tissues together. As cell therapy products, they prove very useful in connective tissue diseases. More commonly, they serve as aids to wound healing and are used in anti-aging programs.
What does it cost?
A common disadvantage of cell therapy products is stemcell price. Part of the reason it is so costly is that the practice is still highly specialized, and has not been adopted into general practice. Stem cell price varies from treatment to treatment. The more complex the treatment, the costlier it will be. Also, factors like the number of cell product introductions, the need for a clinic stay, availability of additional procedures (in addition to the introduction of the cell product) and post-discharge care affect the cost as well. Here’s an infographic to guide you.
But if you can afford it, only a few things in this world are worth more than good health.