The following content provides a broad overview about stem cells, their purpose and potential uses.
The human body is made of a variety of different types of cells that come together to perform various functions. In comparison, this is much like a city. In order for the city to function there are groups of people that perform different tasks. Policeman keep the peace, cleaners keep the streets clean, water work engineers make sure that households have water and healthcare professionals look after the sick. Different groups of cells in the body perform functions in much the same way. The kidneys filter and clean the blood, the muscles allow us to move our bodies and our skeleton has a support function which works in synergy with the muscles to allow us to move.
Similar to how individuals can be trained into different professionals, stem cells are groups of cells that have the potential to become any of the specialist cells in the body such as muscle, skin, bone, cartilage and blood.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from the undifferentiated inner mass of an embryo. They are able to multiply and grow into a human being when in the womb.
The use of embryonic stem cells for medical treatment is currently against the legislation. They are under very strict conditions with scientists being able to study them but not use them in any treatments unless part of a research study.
Adult stem cells are found in the fully-grown human and have potential to differentiate into various tissues such as nerves, muscles, bone and cartilage.
These cells are less versatile than embryonic stem cells but can divide to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues.
Adult stem cells can either be minimally-manipulated or manipulated.
Adult stem cells can be harvested from parts of the body which can be rich in these cells. These tissues include bone marrow and fat. Once removed they are then processed in a very minimal way before being used for treatment. This tends to mean that the cells are not cultured or altered in a laboratory before being used for treatment.
Minimally-manipulated stem cells are termed as such because they maintain the normal architecture of the body tissue that they have been retrieved from but are not subject to the same rules.
There are two main types of stem cells in the adult. One is in the bone marrow and the other is found in fat (adipose) tissue.
There are a number of ways that stem cells can work. In the laboratory, using very complex techniques, stem cells can become different kinds of tissue cells such as bone or cartilage. They are placed on scaffolds and then placed inside the diseased parts of the body to try regenerate these areas. This technique has been performed for the past twenty years and scientists have found varying degrees of success when trying to treat numerous diseases including arthritis.
More recently, scientists have realised that stem cells do not necessarily turn into a variety of different cells types within the body but it maybe that they act as marshals in guiding the regenerative process within the tissues that are injured. The stem cells work by secreting a variety of chemicals that act in the injured tissues. These chemicals help in the clean up of the damaged tissues and then work to recruit the undamaged parts of the same tissue to start regenerating and replacing what has been lost.
Mesenchymal cells are a subgroup of stem cells. They are only capable of making a certain type of tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle and fat.
Here are some terms used in relation to stem cells and their meaning:
There are many misconceptions around the use of stem cells. Below are two main examples.
1. That embryos and foetuses are destroyed in order to provide stem cell treatments
This is clearly not the case as the use of embryonic stem cells is illegal in both the United Kingdom and in Europe. The stem cells that are used for treatments are from an adult which are harvested from the same individual that is being treated.
2. That stem cells can cure absolutely everything
This is certainly not the case as with any treatment modality, there are failures. In most orthopaedic treatments anywhere between 5-30% of individuals having a surgical procedure end up not having the full benefits that the surgical procedure intends. It is the same with a variety of non-surgical treatments including physiotherapy, manual therapy, injections of various compounds including steroids and of course, stem cell treatments.
How does it differ to Stem Cells therapy?
PRP includes a number of compounds that the body uses for the healing process. It is thought that MSCs are the factories that produce these compounds. The difference is between the battery and the generator. The PRP is much like a battery which is pre-loaded with a certain amount of electricity, whereas, a generator (stem cell) can go on to generate as much electricity as is required. The cells are the factories which produce the compounds used for the healing process in great variety and amount.