There have been certain moments in human history that have stunned humanity and changed the way we thought. Some have even altered the very course of civilization. The late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century have seen the realization of the fantastic dreams of scientists, researchers, and technological gurus. These dreams have changed how humans have lived and made us see and experience things we never believed to be possible. Humanity has crossed frontiers that were unknown before, enjoying the benefits of a myriad of advancements in technology. We have even found the cures for once incurable diseases.
We have seen tremendous transformations in every field of human scientific study including artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robots, animal cloning, computers, innovative internet devices, and thousands of other gadgets. Researchers and scientists constantly discover new technologies for the benefit of mankind. One of the most revolutionary breakthroughs has been the discovery and usage of stem cells.
Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that can be differentiated into specialized cells and can divide, through mitosis, to produce more stem cells. These new cells can be used to treat diseased human organs. They destroy the diseased cells and grow healthy cells within the organ until the organ becomes disease-free.
From 1961 to 1963, Doctor James Till and Doctor Ernest McCullach did pioneering research on hematopoietic (production of blood cells in the bone marrow) stem cells. Though they are called the discoverers of stem cells, some scientists are of the opinion that researchers were working on stem cells as early as 1918. Soon after Till and McCullach “discovered” stem cells, other scientists discovered ways to derive stem cells from mouse embryos. Scientists are now able to derive the cells from human embryos and grow them in labs. In 1998, a team led by James Thomson and Jeffrey Jones, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, developed the first batch of human embryonic cells for use in medicine.
Embryos: Stem cells were initially obtained from umbilical cord blood just after birth, though there were strong protests in opposition to this practice by the leaders of many faiths. This movement somewhat restrained the procedure. Scientists later on learned how to extract stem cells from embryos that had been fertilized through in-vitro fertilization and donated for research. These embryonic cells can mature into any kind of human cell.
The brain and spinal cord: Some types of neural stem cells produce fatty insulation that protects nerves.
Skin: Cells obtained from skin can be genetically manipulated to behave like stem cells.
Bone marrow: These stem cells can transform into bone, fat, tendon, or cartilage cells.
A patient is given local anesthesia to numb the body part. A doctor then performs a liposuction to remove fat tissue from the hip, waist, or other part of the body. The fat tissue is spun in a centrifuge to separate stem cells from the tissue. These stem cells are reinjected into the patient’s body, directly into the joints, tendons, or ligaments – a procedure called Regenerative Stem Cell Therapy.
There are currently hundreds of such clinics operating in many countries including United States, Canada, and Mexico. They offer cutting-edge technology to help restore patients’ health. However, some of these clinics are not approved by the FDA and are likely to jeopardize the patient’s health. The FDA has approved stem cell treatment for blood and immune disorders, certain types of cancer, and skin grafts for burns. There are doctors and clinics that offer stem cell treatment for all sorts of ailments with costs running in the thousands for therapies that the FDA has not approved. The FDA does not take action against these clinics because their usage is considered part of a medical procedure without the use of any drug.
The cosmetic industry also makes use of stem cells.Cells that have been mixed with fat can be injected during a face-lift to make the skin appear shiny and youthful.
Thousands of people benefit from stem therapy. However, certain cases document potential harmful effects on patients, especially those patients who go to clinics not approved by the FDA. Medical staff in such clinics are generally inexperienced in stem cell therapy.
Linda Marsa’s article in the 2017 July and August issue of AARP Bulletin reports on some patients who either lost their lives or were seriously harmed after stem cell therapies. Two of them were from Florida. They died after receiving stem cell injections. A third person in California developed bone fragments in her eyelids after a stem cell face-lift. In another incident, three older women lost their vision after they participated in a so-called clinical trial, for which they had paid in South Florida. They were injected with stem cells to treat their macular degeneration. Before the injection, they had functional vision, they could move without any assistance and they could watch TV. But there was the prospect of further deterioration, which basically meant that they could potentially lose their driver’s licenses. The content in the clinic website was too convincing that they agreed to pay $5,000 for injections in both eyes. In about thirty minutes, the tissue was harvested, and stems cells were injected into the vitreous cavity of both eyes. The injection was done by a nurse and no doctor supervised the procedure.
Unfortunately, only a few days after the injection, they felt severe pain and vision loss. Thomas Albini, an ophthalmologist at the University of Miami, thinks when the stem cells started dividing, they caused the retina to detach. “There was nothing we could do to bring their vision back,” Albini said. “All three are now legally blind and unable to live independently.”
The stem cell industry is rife with fraud, dishonest practitioners and malpractice. One should beware of such clinics and go to only those which have been approved by the authorities and where doctors are thoroughly conversant with new therapies.
The good news is that there are many other clinics that work strictly as per the approval of FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) procedures. The Stem Cell Institute of America has centers in Illinois and is reputed to be a genuine place where patients are generally satisfied with the results of their procedures. The SCIA offers stem cell injections for arthritis and other degenerative conditions found in the knees, hips, shoulders, neck, and lower back. Doctors and nurses are highly trained to administer these treatments.
Other reputable clinics include the Stemedix Medical Clinic and the U.S. Stem Cell Clinic, both in Florida, along with a chain called the Cell Surgical Network which is based in California.
Dr. Mark Berman, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California, established Cell Therapy Centers in 2002. He claims that he and other physicians in his network have performed more than 5,000 stem cell treatments including on himself and his wife.
Sally Temple, a stem cell researcher at the Neural Stem Institute in Rensselaer, NY, and President of the International Society of Stem Cell Research, says:
We are going to see many treatments for diseases that are currently incurable. The results researchers are so excited about are only possible because of decades of tedious work to establish safety protocols, test concepts, and (to) learn how to grow, produce and manipulate stem cells. It is hard to have people understand how long this whole process takes. You would not believe what we have to do in my lab to prepare cells properly.
Stem cell treatment helps in many cases, but it is not yet approved for very serious conditions like strokes, heart ailments, or spinal cord injuries. Research is still ongoing and it may take decades to fully discover how stem cells can be utilized for such conditions.