WHY ARE STEM CELLS SO IMPORTANT?
Stem cells are the body’s repair team, much like a company’s IT department. If something isn’t working properly or is broken, you call the IT guys. During the good times, stem cells are at rest and are inactive. As soon as a problem arises, they become active and start working.
WHAT CAN STEM CELLS ACHIEVE?
Stem cells can treat many illnesses in which certain tissues are damaged. For example, in patients with Type 1 diabetes, certain cells are destroyed in the pancreas that produce the metabolic hormone. By means of stem cell therapy, the cells in that area are encouraged to renew, and the patient could be healed. In addition, stem cells can replace cells in the heart that have been destroyed in a heart attack. In patients with Parkinson’s, stem cells can also replace nerve cells that have been destroyed. This has been demonstrated in scientific studies. A number of clinically standardised studies are currently being conducted.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STEM CELLS?
1. Embryonic stem cells are the first cells produced after the fusion of the egg and sperm. They can develop into each of the over 200 types of cell in the body. The first eight embryonic stem cells can even develop entirely naturally into another human being, i.e., identical twins. Late embryonic stem cells can still develop into every cell type, but can no longer develop into a human being.
2. Adult stem cells have already gone through one stage of the specialisation process so can only develop into certain types of cells: For example, haematopoietic stem cells can develop into all types of blood cells but cannot develop into nerve or muscle cells. The advantage of this: Everyone has a store of these cells in many organs for their entire life. This makes it easier to use them for research and medical purposes.
3. Induced pluripotent stem cells: Scientists in Japan and the USA have recently been successful in reprogramming “normal” skin and connective tissue cells into cells that are highly similar to embryonic stem cells. No egg cells or embryos are required to produce them.
WHY IS EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH CONTROVERSIAL?
In order to obtain embryonic stem cells, researchers have to destroy an embryo and therefore a potential life. In Germany and other countries, it is not permitted to use embryos for research purposes. In countries in which this is permitted, researchers use embryos generated by in vitro fertilisation. These are destroyed at a very early stage when the fertilised egg has produced a microscopic cluster of cells.
DO EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH CLONING?
So-called therapeutic cloning only produces embryonic stem cells for laboratories. Reproductive cloning, however, results in a copy of an animal, such as the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep. Whilst in therapeutic cloning, researchers do produce an embryo, which is integrated into a cell line. However, as far as we know, the human embryonic stem cells used were never created in this way. They come from embryos created during in vitro fertilisation.
HOW ARE INDUCED PLURIPOTENT STEM CELLS CREATED?
Both teams of scientists in Japan and the USA who have reprogrammed human cells used so-called retroviruses to do this. These viruses implant their genetic material directly into the genetic material of the affected cells. The researchers gave the viruses four different genes each, which initiate the process of reprogramming the infected cells to become stem cells. The researchers did not use the same combination of genes each time, so there appears to be multiple ways to revert the cells back to stem cells.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PLURIPOTENT AND EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS?
Scientists are still trying to find out how different reprogrammed cells are to real embryonic stem cells. In the long term, the induced pluripotent stem cells could actually turn out to be the better option. Another problem is that induced pluripotent stem cells pose higher cancer risks for the patient, which is an argument against using them in medical treatment. Cancer risks are increased by using retroviruses that cut DNA and therefore the cell’s genetic material.
ARE STEM CELLS ALREADY BEING USED IN MEDICINE?
Adult stem cells from bone marrow have been used for decades to treat leukaemia and lymphoma. Other forms of stem cell use have been tested with very good results in clinical trials, such as treatment following a heart attack.
HOW MUCH DOES STEM CELL THERAPY COST?
The cost of treatment can only be quoted on an individual basis after assessing the nature of the patient’s condition. When providing a quote, the time associated with the following is taken into account:
1. Extraction: In modern stem cell therapy, fat cells are extracted from the body (liposuction).
2. Preparation: The stem cells are isolated from the fat cells that are extracted. Then, the quantity required for the treatment can be used, and the remaining stem cells can be stored in liquid nitrogen for future treatment. The degree of change determines whether one or more treatments are required. According to current scientific research, one treatment is sufficient to promote cell renewal in cases of wear and tear. For purely inflammation-related symptoms, however, it may be necessary to carry out multiple treatments.
3. Treatment: The affected tissue is treated directly with stem cells obtained from fat. For cosmetic procedures, this is often accompanied by micro fat injections.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRP TREATMENT AND STEM CELL TREATMENT
In PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatment, PRP, which is obtained from the patient’s blood, is injected into the affected tissue. There is a low number of stem cells involved in this procedure.
Stem cell treatment with mesenchymal stem cells uses stem cells obtained from the patient’s fatty tissue by liposuction. Then, the stem cells are isolated (separated) from the fatty tissue. This leaves behind a high number of healing pluripotent stem cells which are then injected into the affected area of the body.
CAN I HAVE THIS TREATMENT?
Everyone’s body has its own healing power. If you have an increased need for prevention or regeneration, stem cell therapy can help to bring about successful healing.
HOW LONG DOES THE TREATMENT LAST?
Mesenchymal stem cell (from fatty tissue) therapy is a two-step procedure
Firstly, fat must be extracted (liposuction), which takes approx. 2-3 hours. Then, researchers isolate (separate) the stem cells from the fatty tissue under aseptic conditions in so-called “clean rooms”. After approx. 2-3 hours, the pure stem cells obtained in this way can be injected into the affected tissue, and the patient can then go home. The entire process takes one day.
During the second stage, the remaining stem cells that are stored in the cleanroom can be used and injected into the affected tissue in several stages. This process lasts approx. 1-2 hours. Stem cells can be stored in liquid nitrogen for up to 30 years.
WHEN CAN I EXPECT TO SEE RESULTS?
As stem cells have strong anti-inflammatory characteristics, joint arthrosis patients, in particular, can be pain-free very shortly after stem cell therapy, depending on the severity of their condition at the outset. In addition, the movement limitations of an affected joint can be relieved shortly after treatment.