The potential for using stem cells to repair every organ in your body is truly mind-blowing. These microscopic wonder-cells hold the key to rejuvenating the body. Within our lifetimes – in fact, within a few years – we’re going to see them fight aging and used to treat a stunning list of diseases.
But research into how to best use these cells is complicated. There’s still more work to be done. And while there have been impressive breakthroughs, there are important cautions you need to know before you rush to a stem cell clinic to get your youth back.
Here’s what I learned at the big annual conference of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. . .
The Human Body’s Raw Material
Stem cells are basically the raw material your body uses to rebuild and repair its various structures. They are what are called “undifferentiated” cells – cells without a particular identity linking them to one specific organ. They retain the ability to transform into almost any other type of cell: skin cells, liver cells, kidney cells, heart cells, lung cells and more. Or they can multiply and make more stem cells.
When you’re younger, your body contains a rich supply of stem cells – that’s why the young can recover so well from injury and disease compared to older people.
But as you age, your supply of stem cells diminishes drastically. Plus, stem cells are limited in their ability to reproduce more stem cells. After a while, the stem cell reproduction process is less and less effective. It becomes like trying to make copies of copies over and over again on a photocopy machine.
Consider this: When you’re printing copies from copies, each successive copy is a little less legible and a little more blurry than the original. In the case of stem cells, as they reproduce repeatedly, genetic mutations and other accumulating errors are incorporated into the cells – like the increasing blurs in photocopies.
Eventually the process yields stem cells that can’t function very well if at all.
The promise of stem cell therapy is that by reviving your stem cells and making them into younger cells, or having a doctor infuse you with an outside source of young stem cells, you can recover the vitality of youth, and repair your organs that are starting to wear out.
Storing Stem Cells
It is generally accepted that the youngest, most potent stem cells available today are those that are collected from the umbilical cord of a baby that has just been born. As a result, numerous companies have sprung up to collect stem cells from umbilical cords. It’s become an industry, albeit still pretty small.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the advantages of using umbilical cord stem cells to treat health problems in adults include. . .
- They are less likely than bone marrow cells to be rejected by the recipient. Bone marrow is another common source of therapeutic stem cells.
- They can be frozen and stored. Bone marrow cells must be used soon after they are gathered.
- For those undergoing treatment for cancer, cord stem cells can be used to boost the immune system during treatment. Bone marrow stem cells don’t work for that purpose.1
Building New Tissues and Organs
One of the most exciting new areas of stem cell research is how to use these cells to grow organs and reduce the need for transplants. Scientists are making significant progress, but much of this research is still in the developmental stage.
Even so, stem cells are being widely used to treat joint problems like arthritic knees. According to Rafael Gonzalez, Ph.D., Vice President of Research & Development at DaVinci Biosciences, when you receive these cells in an IV, they can help generally reduce inflammation in your body. He says, “The cells work by signaling in your body and releasing signaling cues – called a paracrine effect. That makes your body go back to homeostasis. If you have pain going on, it brings it down. If you have massive amounts of inflammation going on in your body, it brings that down.”
When the cells are injected directly into a problem knee, it can help the knee function better. Dr. Gonzalez also says it helps some people avoid getting a total knee replacement.
But he also makes it clear the treatment is not a “cure.” It usually has to be repeated every six months to a year for many people.2
Dr. Gonzales advises that if you have this kind of treatment, or some other kind of stem cell therapy, make sure your doctor is accredited properly and is affiliated with a dependable tissue bank. “The facility you use should be state approved and FDA registered.”3
In other medical areas, right now the only approved uses of stem cells include:4
- Transplanting blood stem cells to treat blood and immune system problems or to restore the blood system after cancer treatment.
- Growing skin grafts for people with severe burns.
- Repairing eye damage after an injury such as a chemical burn (approved in Europe).
I’m sure that further research into stem cells is going to reveal some key secrets of the aging process. For example, researchers examined the blood of the Dutch woman Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, who died in 2005 at age 115. They concluded that she may have died from the fact that her stem cells had burned out.
They found that all her white blood cells at the time of her death had originated from what seems to be the last two stem cells she had available shortly before she died.5
What that says to me is that if she had had access to an infusion of new stem cells, she might still be alive today. And who knows, maybe that kind of longevity – or an even longer life expectancy – might be in the cards for many of us sometime in the future.