We all carry a remarkable regenerative power inside of us that works tirelessly to replace aging cells, repair damaged tissue, and even form new tissue. That power is stem cells, which are found in greater numbers and in more regions of our body than was previously thought possible. They are even found within our hearts and brains. 

The true power of stem cells comes from their ability to change into specific cells that our body requires, such as blood and skin cells. An example of this type of multipotent adult stem cells are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that are found in the bone marrow. Our bodies can convert these MSCs into fat, tissue, or bone cells as needed.

Kenneth Pettine, MD, the founder of the Orthopedic Stem Cell Institute and the Premier Stem Cell Institute, says doctors and scientists are discovering exciting ways to put these stem cells into action. 

Utilizing Mesenchymal Stem Cells

One method is using MSCs to repair cartilage in the joints, which does not naturally repair itself very well after suffering damage. Severe cartilage damage often requires the entire joint to be replaced, which stem cell therapies may soon be a thing of the past. 

A first-in-man clinical trial conducted recently in the Netherlands used MSCs to repair cartilage in 35 patients. The treatments were very safe, with no adverse events being reported, and the results were promising. Patients experienced increased mobility and reduced pain, while imaging scans showed the presence of new cartilage tissue.

Another exciting area of study is the use of stem cells to repair damage to the spinal cord or spinal discs. This has been a field of intense focus for Kenneth Pettine, who worked as an orthopedic surgeon for 31 years and helped develop two revolutionary artificial discs: the FDA-approved Prestige™ cervical artificial disc and the Maverick Artificial Disc. 

He now believes that MSCs are the future of orthopedic and spinal care, having the potential to replace the need for surgical procedures like artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion, procedures which aren’t always effective.

Japan recently approved a stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries that injects MSCs intravenously. The treatment, called Stemirac, extracts MSCs from the patient’s bone marrow, multiplies them in the lab, and then intravenously infuses them back into patients.

A small trial of the treatment was conducted on 13 patients who had suffered spinal cord damage within the past 40 days. Six months after the treatments were administered, 12 of the 13 patients, some of whom had been deemed to have no hope of recovery, had an improved ability to sense touch and contract their muscles around the damaged region.

Those results were enough to convince Japan’s ministry of health to grant the treatment conditional approval. Some in the scientific community were skeptical about the results though, noting that the study was not double-blinded, a gold standard for clinical trials but a standard which isn’t required by regulation in Japan. 

While not a comment on that particular study, Kenneth Pettine does throw some of his own caution into the mix, warning that the hype over stem cell therapies is leading to bold and untested claims about the conditions that stem cell therapies are able to successfully treat. Among the spurious claims are that MSCs can be used to treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease, autism, and multiple sclerosis. 

He also warns that some clinics may not be delivering the goods even when it comes to conditions that MSCs are effective at treating, as several studies have shown that some clinics inject nothing but dead tissue as opposed to the young, vibrant stem cells they claim to be using.

While the hype over stem cell therapies may be leading to some unscrupulous claims about their known capabilities, the future uses for stem cells are incredibly promising, with the potential to treat everything from blood diseases and spinal injuries to macular degeneration and damaged organs.