As a possible anti-aging therapy, regenerative medicine (also known as stem cell treatment) can turn back the clock on aging cells by injecting stem cells into adult tissue. Stem cells are capable of dividing – or “morphing,” if you will – into any other kind of cell. They are essential to the body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate itself.
So it’s no wonder they’re front and center when it comes to reversing aging.
Stem cell therapy as a viable option for reversing developmental aging is the “new frontier” of medicine. Because researchers are still discovering all there is to know about regenerative medicine, the treatments available now are like the Wild West. Anything goes, and there are a lot of untested and semi-tested therapies.
Unlicensed clinics, for-profit “doctors” and straight-up scams are everywhere in this emerging field. Caveat emptor, Latin for “buyer beware,” is a phrase custom-made for this barely regulated environment. And it’s not a bad warning to heed for any type of medical treatment.
Before seeking stem cell therapy, read this first to discover what to look for (and watch out for) when choosing a facility for anti-aging treatments.
Taking The Step Toward Regenerative Medicine
There are a lot of stem cell clinics popping up across the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has “not approved any stem cell-based products for use, other than cord blood-derived hematopoietic progenitor cells (blood forming stem cells) for certain conditions,” such as leukemia.1
Stem cell therapy for anti-aging is approved in some countries outside the US, but that doesn’t mean all clinics are equal. Regardless of where you’re seeking treatment, the clinic you choose must meet a few basic requirements.
If a clinic engages in any of the following practices, move on.
Red Flags to Watch Out For
According to the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), it can be difficult to discern between a reputable facility offering sound clinical trials and a quick-buck clinic offering unproven treatments.
One clue is in the way the services are marketed. Many specialist doctors receive patient referrals, while less reputable clinics may use tactics like hype-y advertisements on Facebook or the internet, or in newspapers and magazines.2
Steer clear of any clinics advertising benefits that seem too good to be true (i.e., results with “absolutely no risk” or without side effects), or that tout their services as a “cure all” or magic bullet.
Another warning is any clinic that claims its practitioners can use any kind of stem cell to treat a variety of conditions or use in different parts of the body.
Blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow regenerate blood cells. Neural stem cells make brain cells. Without careful manipulation in a lab, these tissue-specific stem cells won’t spontaneously become another kind of cell. Do not seek treatment in a clinic that claims stem cells “know where to go and what do to treat a specific condition.”3
Sign Up For a Clinical Trial
If seeking treatment in the US, your best bet is to enroll in an approved clinical study. True clinical studies are free to join; never pay money to be a “guinea pig.” At the same time, they can be selective about their participants and you may not qualify. A legitimate clinical trial is conducted by proper scientists, usually associated with a university or an established facility like Mayo.
Check if the clinical trial is listed on https://clinicaltrials.gov, a database run by the National Institutes of Health.4 A listing there does not guarantee everything is on the level, but it’s a good sign – a useful way of starting to screen your prospects.
There are dozens of media reports about the devastating results of people who mistakenly believe they’re taking part in a government-sanctioned clinic study but who actually receive unregulated stem cell therapy. One horrible example is the three women who went permanently blind after receiving treatment for macular degeneration.5
To ensure your treatments will be safe and effective, do some in-depth research.
Research is Your Best Defense
The best thing you can do before receiving stem cell treatment for anti-aging is to research the procedures you’re seeking. There are a number of different ones, and you need to find out what you’re getting into.
You want to put as least as much effort into understanding the procedures as you would when buying a car or a house. In addition to the all the above-mentioned guidelines:
- Have a physician, like your primary care doctor, help guide you to finding reputable clinics.
- Carefully review and vet clinics yourself.
- Visit the clinic beforehand and ask for a tour.
- Speak directly with the doctor and staff at the clinic. Ask to the see the data that supports their claims. If they resist or offer excuses, leave.
- Talk to others who have received similar treatments from the clinic.
- Consider emailing a few stem cell scientists and ask for their input. They can’t give you medical advice, but they’ll be able to confirm or contradict the information provided by the clinic you’re looking into.
Stem cell therapy has been shown to reverse developmental aging, but it’s not a magic bullet. It’s also a much more serious step than buying a topical cream. Do your research before entering into treatments.
1. What are stem cells? How are they regulated?
2. Nine things to know about stem cell treatments.
3. Nine things to know about stem cell treatments.
4. Patients guide to stem cell treatments top 10 list: Updated for 2016.
5. Three women blinded by unapproved stem-cell ‘treatment’ at South Florida clinic.