Bone marrow transplantation, containing hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), has been used successfully since the nineteen-sixties in treating certain types of cancer, like multiple myeloma and leukemia. They are used to re-populate the ablated bone marrow, including the cancer cells. Stem cell treatment has now expanded to include many types of disease, including multiple sclerosis. Fortunately for the 2.5 million patients worldwide who are affected by multiple sclerosis, stem cells appear to be extremely effective in giving relief from this relentless chronic condition, often slowing or halting its progression and attenuating its impact.
The Different Types of Stem Cells
All tissues of the body contain stem cells. Sources for therapeutic stem cells include embryonic, umbilical, adult hematopoietic (HSC) and adult adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSC). All adult stem cells are known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) because they are derived from the mesodermal layer of the body of the fetus during development.
Embryonic stem cells are at a very early stage of development, so are ‘pluri-potential’ and can evolve, differentiate and re-differentiate into any type of cell and form any organ in the body. They are usually acquired from unwanted fetuses left over after in-vitro fertilization of human eggs or ova, or from umbilical cords of healthy newborns.
Adult stem cells are found in all tissues of our bodies. Their job is to supply ‘spare parts’ in times of need, such as injury and replace effete cells. Since the nineteen fifties, a lot of research has gone into isolating, growing, and studying bone-marrow-derived stem cells. However, since 2002, attention was directed at stem cells contained in fat or adipose tissue, and again those cells have been subjected to much research and scrutiny. Adult stem cells can also be found in every organ and tissue of the body including bone, connective tissue, cartilage, blood vessels, nerve tissue and muscles; but their numbers are most plentiful in fat tissue.
Stem Cell Therapy of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory process that affects the central nervous system and causes demyelination of nerves, resulting in short-circuiting of electrical impulses. Myelin is a type of fat cell that insulates nerves by wrapping around them in a way akin to the plastic insulation around electrical wires. In fact, multiple sclerosis is regarded as an autoimmune disease, since it is the person’s own immune system that attacks the myelin sheaths, in the brain and spinal cord, causing demyelination or loss of insulation. Patients with multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases may eventually need surgery invasive intervention or drugs with undesirable side effects, to treat complications. Also, many drugs can lose efficacy. For those, who do not respond to standard management, or continue to deteriorate in spite of it, the minimally invasive option of stem cell therapy provides an attractive alternative, which, in many, can yield good outcomes.
Thus, when standard medicine has not succeeded in providing desirable relief to the ravages of chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis, people can opt for a modern regenerative therapy alternative and choose MSC treatment. This kind of treatment is perhaps more effective for patients early in the disease; but more desirable for those suffering frequent, aggressive attacks and deterioration. The patient’s own stem cells are used for the treatment, given in a small volume of tissue juice, containing cytokines and growth factors. They are harvested under local anesthesia among 2 ounces of fat, by a process of mini-liposuction. Other supplemental regenerative therapies may be included, such as hormone replacement.
Regardless how the stem cells are procured, they are given by intravenous infusion. After returning to the heart and lungs, most eventually pass on through to their final destination. They are infused with the tissue juice that contains many named and unnamed growth factors and cytokines that are anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulatory. This explains why benefit is often almost immediate. The cells do eventually settle in their final destinations and integrate into the healing processes, whose effects we observe months later.
Differences between HSC and ADMSC Treatments
Around 2002 the seminal discovery of the most plentiful stem cell supply in the adult body was found. This was fat or adipose tissue, which in addition to being easily accessible by mini-liposuction under local anesthesia, contained millions of stem cells. Furthermore, unlike HSCs these adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSCs) were so plentiful that they could be used for treatment immediately, without the need for expansion or multiplication in a laboratory. Thus, bone-marrow aspiration is more invasive and painful and requires growth of the harvest over a few days to increase the cell numbers, since they are less plentiful in bone marrow.
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