A recent boon in stem cell technology has led scientists to a world where treatment is no longer only focused on managing symptoms. There is now a minimally invasive option to treat the underlying causes of pain and discomfort. Conditions all the way from a muscle sprain to a herniated disc may see positive results from stem cell treatments. Before diving into the benefits and disadvantages of this treatment, we must first understand what stem cells are and how they work in the body.
What are Amniotic Stem Cells?
Stem cells are different from other cells in the body because of their ability to grow into other cells, or “differentiate”. Under the right conditions, these cells can become muscle, cartilage, and even bone, for example.
Before differentiation, these cells can be used to heal injuries inside the body. This could include anything from a muscle tear to a cut or scrape. Stem cells are sent to an injury because they can communicate with the immune system and supply the injury with properties that aid healing.
There are several types of stem cells, named for where they originate in the body. Some of the major types are:
- Embryonic Stem Cells: embryonic stem cells originate in an embryo before it has attached to the uterine wall. There is a greater risk of rejection in embryonic stem cells than that of amniotic. Embryonic stem cells carry a great potential, as they are able to become any cell in the human body.
- Amniotic Stem Cells: found in the amniotic sac and amniotic membrane, these cells come with a lower risk of rejection. Similar to embryonic cells, amniotic cells also have the potential to become any human cell.
- Adult Stem Cells: unlike embryonic and amniotic stem cells, adult stem cells are gathered using a patient’s blood sample, bone marrow, or fat tissue. These cells are also able to differentiate, though their range is slightly smaller.
- Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs): scientists have found a way to alter adult stem cells so that they more closely resemble amniotic stem cells. This may unlock similar potential, as there is an abundance of adult stem cells (compared to amniotic or embryonic), but many scientists agree that this process is too expensive and time-consuming to look into.
Amniotic stem cells are particularly interesting because of where they come from. The amniotic sac is the liquid that suspends a fetus during pregnancy. As this fluid is used in a very delicate and important way, it contains properties such as proteins and nutrients that can help repair damage throughout the body.
Why Stem Cells Are in the News
You may have recently heard about stem cell treatment and the promising results of some research studies. Though it is easy to get excited about this emerging field, it’s important to look at it from both sides.
Some controversy has been raised about the ethical ramifications of using certain stem cells – embryonic stem cells – this does not, however, apply to adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells, or iPSCs. The ethical dilemma comes from people who are concerned about the wellbeing of an embryo.
Amniotic and other stem cell treatments are news-worthy because of the vast potential they create by merely existing. Despite a few limitations, most stem cells are capable of making repairs to damaged tissue, helping to restabilize joints, reduce pain, and so much more. Whereas in the past many treatments focus on managing symptoms, stem cell treatments offer an option to actually help treat the underlying cause of symptoms.
Benefits of Using Amniotic Stem Cells
Moral questions surrounding amniotic stem cells are much more clear-cut: the stem cells used for treatment come from the amniotic sacs of mothers who have consented to donating it. These treatments have helped thousands of patients in the United States alone with chronic pain and discomfort.
There are many, many conditions that could benefit from this form of stem cell therapy, including, but not limited to:
- Arthritis: soft tissue that acts as a cushion between joints can naturally deteriorate over time, causing bone to rub against bone, which can cause immense pain and difficulty using the affected area.
- Tendonitis: injury to the tendons can make it difficult to stay balanced and move around.
- Pulled or strained muscle: a common injury that often heals itself. When a muscle tear does not heal, or worsens, stem cell treatments may offer the muscle a little boost to jump-start the healing process.
- Joint instability: many of the small, intricate systems that hold a joint together can become injured or damaged, causing a myriad of symptoms. Though assistive devices and physical therapy can help to stabilize the joint, stem cell treatments can help heal many potential underlying causes.
- Traumatic injury: sports injuries, falling, and car accidents are common causes of an injury due to trauma. The type of injury can vary greatly, but many traumatic injury types can respond well to stem cell therapy.
- Damage caused by repetitive motion: jobs that require a motion to be repeated, such as a writer or construction worker, can add extra stress on the structures involved. Treatment for this type of injury also can vary widely. Many repetitive-motion type injuries are caused or exacerbated by inflammation, which can be reduced using stem cell therapy.
Amniotic stem cells have a very low risk to the patient, especially when used safely and correctly. Some risks to be aware of include infection and rejection of the substance by the body. The risk of rejection is very low with amniotic stem cells.
As with any treatment, it is important that patients discuss their concerns with a knowledgeable medical professional. During this time, patients can ask any questions they may have and determine what treatment is best suited to their individual needs.
Disadvantages of Amniotic Stem Cells
Amniotic cells alone pose very little risk to patients – procedures are generally considered safe, particularly when doctors are performing with respect to general safety and sanitary guidelines. A major issue that has arisen with amniotic stem cells recently is not an issue of the cells’ abilities, rather it is a problem involving the actual cells.
Some medical representatives and even doctors may be trying to sell what they call “amniotic fluid” for the purpose of extracting stem cells. In some cases, there are no viable stem cells in their product, however. It is unlikely that the dead tissue they are trying to sell would be harmful to a patient, but medical professionals in the field of regenerative medicine need to be extra careful to ensure that they are using a quality product.
How to Know if Stem Cell Treatment is Right for You
The first step in treating any injury is to meet with a doctor. They will observe the affected area, ask about symptoms and family history, and might order a series of tests to more accurately find the source of discomfort.
Doctors may use imaging techniques such as MRI, CT Scan, Ultrasound, or X-Rays to take a look at what is going on inside. These images can show doctors what is happening to certain tissues in the body, how they are aligned, and what kind of damage has occurred.
Once they are sure of what is causing a patient’s discomfort, doctors move forward with a treatment plan. Doctors at CELLAXYS are highly trained and well-informed, using this knowledge to determine whether a patient would see success from regenerative medicine.
Though different types of stem cells have been researched for decades now, new advancement in technology has unlocked a world of treatment potential. All treatment options should be carefully considered by patients, as there are risks and advantages to everything. Getting informed is the first step on the road to recovery.