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How Stem Cells are revolutionizing medicine by addressing the root cause of disease


Over the last decade or so a massive paradigm shift has been unfolding around the world in the field of medicine. Medicine in the 20th century was primarily focused on using drugs and surgical interventions to resolve acute traumas and control the symptoms of chronic diseases. While these methods were fantastic for addressing the acute issues, they have failed miserably at addressing the chronic disease epidemics that we are facing in the world today. In fact, in many cases these diseases are significantly worsened or even caused by the toxic nature of some of these pharmaceutical drugs. It’s even estimated that over 100,000 people in the U.S. alone die each year from the expected side effects of “properly” prescribed drugs.


Millions around the world today are turning more to Naturopathic and Functional Medicine physicians who’s approaches involve addressing the root cause of Illness at the cellular level, which is where all health or disease emanates from. Many of the most influential movers and shakers in the field of natural medicine, including my friend and colleague Dr. Daniel Pompa, have a central message that revolves entirely around the concept of cellular healing. That concept embraces the fact that cells are really the physical foundation of what we are as human beings. A single human body really isn’t a single entity at all. It’s actually a multitude of trillions of individual units of life that we call cells. Think of the body as a large community of cells living and working together symbiotically to achieve a common goal, which is to keep the body alive. The different systems of the body (nervous, circulatory, digestive etc.) are like sub communities, all containing different types of cells that perform different functions that each contribute to the overall state of the whole body. When the cells are free of interference (stress of any kind) they can adequately function, communicate and will naturally sync with the rest of the cell community and create the highest possible level of overall balance between all systems. This synergistic balance is what creates health.


The ability of the body to naturally orchestrate this all on its own is both one of the great miracles and mysteries of life. Modern science can’t explain where this healing intention of the body comes from or exactly how it works past the physical level. Still, even though it can’t be fully quantified, we do know it exists as an intelligence that constantly governs and drives self-renewal. This self-renewal has been commonly referred to by Dr. Pompa and others as the body’s innate intelligence. This intelligence is always directing the body towards a state of balance that has generally been referred to as homeostasis. Day in and day out the level of homeostasis is what invariably dictates your state of health. So good or bad, the overall state of your health is a direct reflection of cellular function.


Dr. Pompa puts it beautify with his famous mantra “If you don’t fix the cell, you’ll never get well” because all chronic disease is really a cellular issue. One of the greatest criticisms of most current allopathic and even “standard” alternative medical approaches is that they are both almost always working “downstream” from the source of the issue and doing nothing to address cell function. Their approaches, most of the time, involve using the classic drugs or supplements as crutches to temporarily prop up compromised parts of the system by quickly shifting the body’s chemistry. By doing this, physicians are merely treating the symptom because all chemicals and hormones in the body are generated by functions of the cell. If there’s a chemical issue, it stems from a cellular issue and if it is not somehow addressed at the cellular level, it will never be permanently resolved.


The core philosophy in naturopathic medicine has always been to remove the interference and then support the body’s healing through the synergy of a multi therapeutic approach. Interference often comes in the form of any physical, chemical or emotional stressor that disrupts cell function. To clear the interference the first step is always identifying and removing as many of the stressors as possible that are causing the illness in a patient’s life. The next step is to implement various life style strategies, treatments, and therapies to activate the “innate intelligence” in order to accelerate healing. From a scientific perspective on the physical level, the innate healing intelligence would be seen here as the sum of all the living constituents that make up the body’s regenerative system. This system is a combination of many factors that together stimulate the body to repair itself. Many cell types including signaling molecules, hormones and growth factors are involved in this process, however the main catalysts for cellular healing in the body are most definitely stem cells.



What are stem cells?

Any time a successful healing process takes place in the body it is primarily orchestrated by cells called stem cells. Stem cells are the seeds of all biological life. In fact, our human life actually begins with a single stem cell called a zygote. That single cell will multiply exponentially to eventually give rise to trillions of cells and form every system in the body. Think of stem cells like small children who have the ability to grow up and take on any role within their community that they wish. As children mature and go through the education system, they begin to branch off from others to pursue their individual interests and eventually take on a specialized role in society in the form of their chosen occupation. In the same way, the most primitive stem cells have the ability to take on any role in their large cell community (the body) by becoming specialized cells forming the brain, heart, lungs and every other part of the body. This process is known as differentiation. After the body is fully developed, more mature stem cells then take on the role of repairing damaged tissue or creating new tissue when significant damage occurs. So they are essentially the raw materials used by the innate intelligence to create and maintain the health of the entire system.


There are actually several different types of stem cells categorized in order based on their “potency” or level at which they are able to repair and form new tissues. The more primitive cells, like the ones present in the embryonic stage of development, have the greatest ability to repair due to the fact that they are so youthful and hold the capacity to eventually create a full human body out of an embryo. As a person develops, these cells branch off and create less potent adult stem cells that are responsible for the lifelong process of cellular healing.

In the human body there are 5 main categories of stem cells:


Totipotent - the ability to differentiate into all possible cell types. Examples are the zygote formed at egg fertilization and the first few cells that result from the division of the zygote.


Pluripotent - the ability to differentiate into almost all cell types. Examples include embryonic stem cells and cells that are derived from the mesoderm, endoderm, and ectoderm germ layers that are formed in the beginning stages of embryonic stem cell differentiation.


Multipotent - the ability to differentiate into a closely related family of cells. Examples include mesenchymal and hematopoietic (adult) stem cells that can become red and white blood cells or platelets. They can also signal other cell types to repair themselves.


Oligopotent - the ability to differentiate into a few cells. Examples include (adult) lymphoid or myeloid stem cells.


Unipotent - the ability to only produce cells of their own type, but have the property of self-renewal required to be labeled a stem cell. Examples include (adult) muscle stem cells.

Although all of these types vary in potency, all stem cells have 2 major paths that they can take in their life cycle ….differentiation and self-replication. Self-replication is when the cell makes copies of itself. This is done in tissues all over the body to build populations of stem cells for current and later use. Think of it as a bank account that your body draws from for constant maintenance and healing throughout life. Every time stress or injury occurs, the body draws from this bank account, and the available stem cells will be released to the damaged areas. They then either secrete signals to stimulate the tissue to repair itself or differentiate and become new cells of that tissue type to replace cells that have been lost. When a person undergoes the aging process or consistent long term stress related injury of any kind, their available stem cells are constantly having to go into “differentiate mode” to keep up with the accumulating damage and perpetual cell loss. Over time this depletes the person’s bank account because there are more cells being sent to differentiate than are left behind to self-replicate and keep the bank account full. This stem cell depletion leads to accelerated aging and biological deterioration on every level. When stem cell populations get too low, the person can almost completely lose the ability to heal and optimize every cell in the body because remember, your body is entirely made up of cells. If your cells don’t work right, you don’t work right! The main point in this discussion is that all cellular healing is a stem cell mediated process. Maximizing stem cell activity within the body is the key to total health optimization. The real question for good health is how can we harness the power of stem cells in our bodies to build cellular resilience, prevent disease, and maximize total performance? This brings us back to the core philosophy of naturopathic treatment….remove the interference and support the innate intelligence with any means possible to allow that innate intelligence to function as it was designed. There are many life style changes, dietary shifts, supplements, therapies and modalities that are all effective at maximizing the body’s own stem cell function. We now know though many years of studying cells thoughout the body is that the most powerful and direct way to harness the power of stem cells clinically is through stem cell therapy.


What is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem cell therapies are a class of medical procedures that involve injecting live stem cells into various places in the body to stimulate the regenerative process directly. While at Docere Clinics, we ONLY treat musculoskeletal pain disorders and do NOT treat any systemic disease at all, stem cells are being used both domestically and abroad to help in the treatment of a massive variety of different conditions such as:


Sports-related and overuse injuries such as torn muscles, ligaments 1 Chronic pain and arthritis2 Traumatic brain injury3 Congestive heart failure4 Spinal cord injury5 Parkinson’s disease6 Alzheimer’s disease and dementia7 Autoimmune conditions8 Diabetes9 Kidney disease10 Macular degeneration11 Also applied for general anti-aging12


In theory, there is almost no limit to the number of conditions that stem cell therapies could eventually help as research progresses. Medical experts across a vast array of different specialties have long predicted them to be the future holy grail of medicine. The synergy that comes from integrating all of the available treatments and lifestyle strategies that naturopathic and functional medicine has to offer into a practical system with stem cell therapy is typically where physicians are going to see the best results clinically. With the knowledge that unencumbered cellular communication dictates whole body symbiosis it is evident that the real future of medicine for chronic disease will be a combination of functional medicine (terrain preparation) and regenerative medicine (stem cell-related therapies). It’s when we apply both fields together that we can see the most miraculous clinical results even today.


Who Might Benefit the Most from Stem Cell Therapy?

There are four main groups of people who might benefit the most from stem cell therapy:

The Elderly: As we age, our stem cells also age, leading them to become less and less potent as time goes on. After around the age of forty, our stem cell function starts to decline, and so does our ability to create new stem cells. Even the new stem cells created are slightly less potent than the ones created when we were younger. By age eighty, our stem cells have lost a significant degree of their original potency, and our ability to produce new stem cells is far less than that of a young person. As we age, we also lose growth factors and other important signaling molecules that activate stem cells and mobilize them into circulation to reach areas that need repair. Anyone over forty can get a significant added benefit by seeking out the stem cell therapies that use younger cells or just put more of their stem cells into circulation and damaged tissues.


Those with Compromised Health: Anyone with a chronic degenerative disease can potentially benefit from receiving injections of extra stem cells, especially those with very significantly progressed degeneration where there is extensive cellular damage that has built up over many years. In these cases, the individual’s stem cells are usually also compromised or damaged from being subjected to all the same environmental factors that are driving the disease process. Previously I mentioned that self-replication and differentiation are the two main paths that stem cells can take in their life cycle. When a person undergoes the aging process or consistent long-term stress-related injury of any kind (like an injury that occurs in degenerative disease), their available stem cells must go into differentiate mode to keep up with the accumulating damage and perpetual cell loss. Over time this depletes the person’s stem cell reservoir as more cells go to differentiate than are left behind to self-replicate and replenish the reserve. For these individuals, stem cell therapy can help them gain leverage over the disease process by making up for the deficit in healthy viable stem cells and supply the extra stem cells and signaling factors that may be necessary to repair the extensive damage in the body’s tissues.

Those with Acute Injuries: Stem cells are being used in clinics around the world to help patients recover from many acute injuries. Individuals with everything from joint injuries to head trauma can benefit greatly from the large numbers of stem cells given intravenously or injected directly into the injury site.


Those Seeking Anti-Aging Effects and Total Health Optimization: Even if a person isn’t in the middle of a serious disease process, they still might be able to receive benefit from stem cell therapy. Many health-conscious individuals around the world are seeking out these treatments for extra regenerative support to try to bring their health to the next level, slow and potentially reverse the aging process. Many who are doing this are reporting a vast array of positive results such as increased mental clarity, faster recovery, better sleep, increased energy, and better overall vitality. It is for this category that we created the Full Body Stem Cell Makeover; those who wish to optimize their shot at vibrant longevity!


What are the Different types of Stem Cell Treatments Available?

If you choose to pursue stem cell therapy, the next step is to investigate the types of therapies that are available and to find a practicing physician who specializes in them. It is important to know that all stem cells are not necessarily created equal. There are diverse types of stem cells, and therefore, many types of stem cell therapies that have cells from a variety of different sources. All of the stem cells used in stem cell therapies however are classified as either embryonic or adult stem cells. Most of us know the controversy centered on Embryonic stem cells started in the early 2000s and still continues today because many people believe that aborted fetal tissue is the source of these harvested cells. This belief is false. Today most embryonic cells come from in-vitro fertilization. These cells are extremely potent (pluripotent) and, as mentioned before, can directly become any cell type in the body. Because they are foreign cells that are not universal, they might turn into cancer cells or cause immune reactions when used clinically. For these reasons, they are illegal to use in the United States but are available in many countries around the world. Embryonic stem cells however, are rarely used therapeutically, because they are the ones that can turn into the wrong tissue. All of the stem cell therapies in the United States are performed using adult stem cells. Which are defined as any stem cells that are harvested from tissues that are present after the embryonic stage of development. Depending on where they are harvested from, adult stem cell treatments fall into two separate categories….autologous and allogeneic treatments.


AUTOLOGOUS

Autologous procedures involve using stem cells harvested from the patient’s body, which is thought to be the safest choice because there is no risk of any adverse reactions or other side effects. Although we can extract stem cells from virtually all tissues, most physicians doing autologous treatments are harvesting the cells from either the patient’s bone marrow, fat, or peripheral blood.


Most of the cells harvested from these areas are "adult stem cells" known as MSCs (Mesenchymal Stem Cells). Unlike embryonic stem cells that can become any cell type in the body, MSCs primarily work by seeking out areas of damage and secreting signals that stimulate cells to repair themselves. We call this process, paracrine signaling.

Although they are not as potent as younger stem cells, they have still been shown to be very effective clinically.13 Bone marrow and fat are the richest sources of stem cells in the body, and treatments that have cells from these areas are comprised mainly of MSCs.


ALLOGENEIC

These are procedures that involve using stem cells that come from a donor. The main reason to go this route is to obtain younger, healthier cells from another person when the patient’s cells are compromised. Very elderly or sick individuals would be good candidates for this procedure. Physicians using allogeneic treatments also use stem cells that come from a variety of different tissue sources. Outside of Embryonic cells that are not available in the U.S., the main two tissue sources are Umbilical Cord and Placenta.


These treatments are mainly MSCs but are young and therefore more potent than most cells found in an adult patient’s tissues.14Clinics around the world are buying umbilical cord stem cell products harvested from healthy C-sectioned births and donated by the mothers. They are processed, purified, and screened thoroughly for every possible known infectious disease and administered to patients in the form of simple injections. Although these cells are coming from a donor, they don’t appear to cause any acute immune reactions because they come from tissue that is "universal", meaning not technically mom or baby. Cells are neutral; otherwise, either mom or baby would reject them during pregnancy. Treatments using these cells generally appear to be safe. However, not yet thoroughly studied, we can’t say for sure that there aren't any potential side effects long term. On the other hand, one of the newest allogeneic treatments around called exosome therapy, does not actually contain stem cells at all, but rather consists of just the signaling molecules that MSC's use to illicit their effects in the body called exosomes. These are usually derived from placental tissues and the cells are discarded. Therefore, they contain no foreign DNA. This makes it virtually impossible for them to cause any reaction in the patient receiving them. At Docere Clinics, people come to us because they want to use their own cells, but most people agree to supplement their stem cells with exosomes.


References

Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. 10.Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. 11.Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. 12.Modulating the stem cell niche for tissue regeneration. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Aug; 32(8): 795–803. DOI: [10.1038/nbt.2978] PMCID: PMC4422171 NIHMSID: NIHMS685157 PMID: 25093887. Steven W Lane, David A Williams, and Fiona M Watt. 13. Mesenchymal stem or stromal cells: a review of clinical applications and manufacturing practices. Transfusion. 2014 May;54(5):1418-37. DOI: 10.1111/trf.12421. Epub 2013 Oct 16. Sharma RR, Pollock K, Hubel A, McKenna D. 14. Mesenchymal stem or stromal cells: a review of clinical applications and manufacturing practices. Transfusion. 2014 May;54(5):1418-37. DOI: 10.1111/trf.12421. Epub 2013 Oct 16. Sharma RR, Pollock K, Hubel A, McKenna D.

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