A fetus starts off as a single cell that divides over and over again. In the early stages, these cells can turn into any other kind of cell in the body. These "pluripotent" cells are the kind of cells that we commonly refer to as "stem cells." Stem cells are the building blocks of our body. As the cells divide they become "differentiated."
The cells differentiate into various organs like bone, skin, blood, heart, brain etc. Once the cells commit to a specific line, they cannot go back and turn into something else. The only cells that can do that are the stem cells. If you break a bone, you need to recruit stem cells to the area to repair the damage with new bone. Skin cells need a continuous supply of stem cells to replace the dead skin that sloughs off the surface. Some organs are so specialized that we used to think that the cells we are born with are the same cells we have for the rest of our lives.
We now know that our adult bodies are loaded with stem cells. We no longer have to look to controversial sources like fetal tissue to acquire stem cells. We don't even need to perform painful procedures like bone marrow biopsies to harvest adult stem cells. The most abundant reservoir of stems cells happens to be in the extra fat that most of us have with plenty to spare.
History of Stem Cell in the United States
Stem cell transplants have been performed since the 1950's to treat leukemia. Scientists eventually discovered that stem cells could be used to treat a variety of different medical conditions. By the turn of the century, the potential of regenerating damaged adult tissue with stem cells captured the imagination of doctors and stem researchers around the world. In the United Staes, concern about the potential use of fetal stem cells for this research raised alarm and concern resulting in the imposition of heavy regulations in the early 2000's. For almost a decade stem cell research pretty much stopped in the US as American clinics moved abroad to Mexico and the Cayman Islands. In 2009 President Obama lifted the Stem Cell moratorium and American clinicians jumped back in to try to catch up with European and Asian counterparts. By then, the discovery of adult stem cells in adipose tissue (fat) made the ethical concerns a non-issue. Regenerative Medicine clinics have started to open up around the country with incredible success in treating orthopedic conditions such as sports injuries and degenerative joint conditions. The improvements were so dramatic that stem cell practitioners were optimistically predicting that many of the current treatments such as knee replacements, arthroscopic surgeries and pain medications would soon be obsolete. Unfortunately, we are currently facing another snag in the story of stem cells in the US. The pharmaceutical industry has petitioned the FDA to classify the process of using enzymes to separate the stem cells from the fat to be creation of a new drug. As a consequence, your own stem cells are now considered a drug and cannot be legally administered in the United States. Patients desiring to have autologous stem cell treatments are again, having to go to very expensive European clinics or are taking their chances with trying to find a legitimate clinic in poorly regulated countries like Mexico.
Stem Cell Therapy at Omni Aesthetics
Dr. H. William Song at Omni Aesthetics is one of a handful of American doctors offering legal adipose derived stem cell treatments. Dr. Song has been on the forefront of using adipose derived stem cells to improve the retention of autologous facial fat transfers. By using an infrasonic vibrational technique to mechanically separate the stem cells off the fat before extracting it from the body, he is able to harvest stem cells without the use of enzymes. This technique is safe and perfectly legal because it is considered a minor surgical procedure rather than administration of an unapproved drug. Because there is a little bit of liposuction involved, the tools required for this procedure are mostly in the hands of cosmetic surgeons. Most plastic and cosmetic surgeons are not interested in the medical applications of stem cell therapy. On the other hand, most orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists are not yet very comfortable performing liposuction. Having practiced internal medicine for 15 years prior to switching to cosmetic surgery, Dr. Song is more than capable of applying his cosmetic skills to medical therapies with stem cells. In fact, the inventor of this procedure has asked Dr. Song to help train non-cosmetic surgeons in this innovative technique so that it can be used to safely and legally harvest stem cells from unwanted fat.
What can be treated with Stem Cells?
Adding additional stem cells to fat grafting has been shown to significantly improve the retention of the transferred fat and helps improve the quality of the overlying skin with changes that are noticeable immediately and lasts for years. This is Dr. Song's signature treatment that he calls SCEFI which stands for Stem Cell Enhanced Fat Induction. The current standard of care for osteoarthritis in the knees are knee replacement surgery, arthroscopic surgery, cortisone injections and lubrication with hyaluronic acid (Rooster comb) injections. The problem with surgery is that is is very invasive with long recoveries and risk of complications. Some recent studies have actually shown that arthroscopic surgery may actually be no better than placebo. Cortisone injections give temporary relief by decreasing the inflammation, but may actually impede the healing. Hyaluronic acid injections also give temporary relief but do not help with healing so repeated injections are needed every few months. Regenerative medicine focuses on using the body's own tools to heal these injuries. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is now an accepted therapy for treating sports injuries and osteoarthritis of the knees. This procedure requires collecting a sample of whole blood from the arm and using a centrifuge to separate out the platelets which contains growth factors. When injected into an area of injury the platelet become activated and release growth factors which attract stem cells to the area. The stem cells divide and transform into new cartilage, bone and skin cells to repair the injury. Because it is actually aiding the repair rather than just treating the symptoms, PRP treatment is superior to the previously mentions treatments. Stem Cell injection treatments take regenerative principle to the next level. Instead of just signaling the stem cells to come to the injury, we can extract millions of stem cells from a different part of the body and dump them right into the area of concern. With an abundance of stem cells to work with, the body begins the repair process immediately with results that are magnitudes better than the other options. If the tendons are not completely torn, the stem cells can repair them without requiring surgery. Many patients who were told that they need knee replacement surgery are finding relief after a few weeks and are often canceling scheduled surgery. Most regenerative clinics are using stem cells extracted from bone marrow to get around the regulatory issues. A bone marrow biopsy requires drilling a hole into the hip bone and suctioning out the marrow. As you can imagine, this can be a painful process and only a small amount of marrow can be safely extracted per session. If you have multiple joints to treat, you would need to repeat the process several weeks later. Adipose derived stem cells are actually turning out to be superior to bone marrow derived cells for treating orthopedic conditions. The technique of mechanically extracting the stem cells from the fat instead of using enzymes, makes it perfectly legal in the US. The perfect time to have a stem cell treatment is in conjunction with a liposuction procedure. However, you can have a stand alone stem cell treatment even if you do not need any liposuction. If you are interested in finding out more about Adipose Derived Stem Cell Therapy, please call and make an appointment for a personal consultation.