(Note: This is the part 1 of a multi-part story. To read the last part, click here)
After the cosmetic procedures of plastic surgery have become an open secret via showbiz endorsements left and right, the buzz word these days is Stem Cell Therapy – credited to have given senior celebrities and politicians their youthful looks and vigor. As a result, many people in the throes of their advancing maturity levels are now scrambling to get these admittedly pricey shots for themselves. This boom has given rise to many claims, even on the internet, where advertisements are a dime a dozen for shady deals and do-it-yourself kits.
Dr. Cristina Puyat, a founding member of the Philippine Stem Cell Society and who practices at the Anti-Aging Sciences and Cosmetic Institute (ASCI) at the Medical Plaza Ortigas in Pasig City, explains the basics of this treatment. She starts off by saying that it is nothing new. “Stem cell therapy is also known as a stem cell transplant. Adult hematopoietic, or blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow have been used in transplants for over 40 years.”
From ewe to you?
She then explains the basic building blocks of the procedure. “A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to divide and self-replicate for indefinite periods. Given the right signals, stem cells can (re-create) many different cell types that make up the organism. Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body, and in many tissues they can serve as an internal repair system, so that they can divide essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person is still alive.”
According to Puyat, who is also a founding member and head of Public Relations of the World Council of Preventive, Regenerative & Anti-Aging Medicine (WOCPM), there are different forms of cell transfer available:
1. An Allograft is the transplantation of cells between two genetically non-identical members of the same species.
2. A Xenograft is the transplantation of cells from one species to another. An example of this is transplanting sheep cells to humans.
3. An Autologous graft (Autologous Therapy) is the transplantation of cells from one part of the body to another in the same individual.
Of the three, she says that at the ASCI, stem cells are harvested via autologous (the patients themselves) donors only; either from their bone marrow, blood and/or adipose tissue. “Because of the lack of the host’s response to a foreign cell or tissue, this is the safest mode of transplantation in all age types, including the immune-compromised elderly.” She adds, “according to Health Secretary Enrique Ona, the public should be careful about receiving cell preparations that are being offered in the Philippines and elsewhere, such as embryonic, aborted fetal, genetically altered, and especially animal stem cells. Additionally, the American Cancer Society says that the use of animal cells in humans carries a lot of risks, as patients can contract bacterial and viral infections carried by the animal cells, and some have had life-threatening and even fatal allergic reactions. Other reports list complications such as brain swelling or the immune system attacking blood vessels or nerves following cellular treatment. Serious immune system reactions resulting in death have also been reported.”
The cell potential
Although stem cell technology holds promise, stem cell therapy is not yet part of the standard of care, Puyat says. “ASCI considers treatment for compassionate use only. We never guarantee results and only provide treatment for those qualified candidates who choose to have the treatment based on their own research and informed decisions. Patients are carefully screened and the necessary diagnostics, such as labs and clearances, are secured and diligently reviewed by a qualified physician before someone can undergo stem cell therapy. This is especially true for patients who have other illnesses that may cause complications, however minor, during treatment,” she explains.
Stem cell therapy has been studied for its potential in many diseases, and she lists some of them as:
• Cerebral Palsy
• Erectile Dysfunction
• Hair Transplantation
• Hearing Loss
• Kidney Failure
• Knee Injuries
• Liver Disease
• Macular Degeneration
• Retinitis Pigmentosa
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• Spinal Cord injury
Not a magic bullet
With all the potential, stem cell therapy is not a miracle cure, as others may hype it to be. “At ASCI, we have had patients with some of the illnesses mentioned and have seen life-changing results. It is important to keep in mind that life-changing does not necessarily mean a cure. For example, a patient with constant lower leg pain from a degenerative disc disease may have a significant decrease in intensity and persistence of pain following a stem cell treatment. This is life-changing for the patient himself, (but) the patient may not necessarily be cured of the injury. While stem cell therapy can have very promising results in some patients, it still has a long way to go. It is important that expectations are managed and this type of therapy is not misrepresented as some sort of magic bullet that will cure all.”