As one of the most exciting fields of study in the 21st century, one might expect stem cells to be a very new discovery. Ironically, the first stirrings of what would come to be known as mesenchymal stem cells were identified by researchers way back in 1924. And yet, it’s fair to say that most Americans who don’t work in biology or medicine have never even heard the term.
Thanks to their incredible inherent properties, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) make simple, minimally invasive stem cell therapy treatments possible. Read on to learn how they do it.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are repair cells charged with maintaining homeostasis, or steady functioning, of tissue. They are able to do this because of their ability to self-renew and differentiate into new cells to keep tissue healthy and growing.
There are three main types of stem cells:
Embryonic stem cells found in embryos are pluripotent, which means they can give rise to all of the cell types that make up the body. At AOKC, we do not use any embryonic stem cells.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are adult cells that have been genetically modified into an embryonic stem cell-like state for the purposes of drug development and disease modeling. Similarly, pluripotent stem cells are not used in our treatments.
Adult stem cells are multipotent, which means they can differentiate into many, but not all types of cells. For example, blood (or haematopoietic) stem cells can only become blood cells; skin (or epithelial) stem cells can only become skin or hair cells.
MSCs are a type of adult stem cell and are the type of stem cell we use at AOKC. They’re most commonly harvested from bone marrow (MSCs are sometimes called “mesenchymal stromal cells”), although they can also be isolated from other sources such as cord and peripheral blood, fat tissue, and muscle tissue. Researchers are still learning how MSCs from different sources show different characteristics, but we do know that both young and aging MSCs from bone marrow are effective in a number of orthopedic treatments.
What Conditions Can MSCs Help Treat?
Today, bone marrow concentrate (BMC) therapy is the most common source for MSCs. Although bone marrow has been used for decades as a cancer treatment, BMC can address a wide range of orthopedic conditions (more on this below).
The future is very bright for MSCs. As numerous clinical trials continue, it’s thought that MSCs from various sources may one day be able to treat:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis
- Neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Endocrine diseases such as diabetes
- Rheumatologic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
What Orthopedic Conditions Can Be Treated with MSCs?
Currently, MSCs are used in treating chronic joint pain and injuries to ligaments and tendons such as:
- Tendon and ligament injuries – patellar tendonitis, quadriceps tendon tears, MCL/LCL/ACL tears
- Knee pain – osteoarthritis, medial/lateral meniscus tears*, chondromalacia patellae
- Hip pain – osteoarthritis, hip labrum tears, SI joint dysfunction, piriformis syndrome, greater trochanteric bursitis, iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
- Shoulder pain– osteoarthritis, rotator cuff tendinitis, tendinopathy, partial tears, labrum tears, bicipital tendinitis
- Elbow pain – lateral epicondylitis (“tennis elbow”), medial epicondylitis (“golfer’s elbow”)
- Wrist/hand pain – osteoarthritis, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
- Ankle and foot pain – Achilles tendinitis or partial tears, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains/ligament injuries
- Back pain – facet joint arthropathy, SI joint dysfunction
*Some cartilage and ligament tears are too extensive to heal with BMC injection alone and are instead treated with surgical repair and BMC.
How Do MSCs Help Treat Orthopedic Conditions & Other Diseases?
Much of the pain associated with orthopedic conditions stems from inflammation, which is actually an important part of the body’s immune system response. But lingering injuries can cause chronic inflammation that doesn’t dissipate.
In cases of both chronic and acute, or temporary inflammation, MSCs help by responding to the environment at the site of inflammation. Once there, their immunomodulatory ability helps them tame the inflammation, while releasing growth factors that can help injured cells heal. As the inflammatory environment dissipates, local cells can behave more normally, producing higher quality cartilage and connective tissue.
Finally, MSCs’ potential to differentiate and proliferate into many different types of cells enables them to give rise to brand new cells. In this way, they literally regenerate tissue, restoring levels of function and mobility to joints, muscles, and organs.
Call 713-984-1400 today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jensen, or to learn more about what stem cell therapy can do for you.