We all have heard of stem cells and stem cell therapy and how it could be the next big thing in the field of medicine. But what are stem cells exactly, and what can they do in the field of medicine?
The Philippines’ premier healthcare institution, Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), shares some facts to help us understand what stem cells are all about through its Cellular Therapeutics Center:
1. Stem cells have two forms. These are the embryonic stem cell and adult (somatic) stem cell. Adult stem cells reside in body tissues and can develop into the same type of cell as the tissue they are designated. For example, adult stem cells in a muscle tissue can replace a muscle cell that was lost because of an injury.
Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, can develop into new, specialized cells that create bone, nerve, muscle, and other tissues in the body. The use of embryonic stem cells in research and therapy is controversial, but there are studies being conducted on the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, or adult cells that can be programmed to behave like embryonic stem cells and develop into other cells as needed by the patient’s therapy.
2. Stem cells can be “programmed”. Think of these cells as little kids who have yet to determine what they want to be. Stem cells are formed with no specific function, thus, giving them the potential to be “educated” to copy different cell types. Like kids who later become doctors, lawyers or engineers, stem cells can be educated to function like heart or brain cells.
3. Stem cells for therapeutic use can come from you or someone else. Stem cells can be autologous, or from the patient’s own body; allogeneic, or from a donor; and syngeneic, or from an identical twin.
4. Stem cells can be used to treat various diseases. Bone marrow-derived stem cells can treat numerous blood disorders, like leukemia or primary immunodeficiency. While under study, stem cells have shown encouraging results in the treatment of heart diseases, osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders.
The obstacle to the public’s acceptance of stem cell therapy are the clinics offering treatments that are not yet supported by a valid science or evidence, according to CTC Co-Director Francisco S. Chung Jr., Ph.D.
“We still have more to learn about stem cells, while its current applications as treatments are sometimes exaggerated by the media and other parties who do not have a clear idea of its science and current limitations. I will be wary of ‘clinics’ looking to capitalize on the hype by selling treatments to vulnerable or uninformed patients,” Chung said.
“Over time, stem cell therapy could help revolutionize the way we treat diseases that are practically untreatable. Through regenerating stem cells into specialized cells, numerous diseases and disorders, including spinal cord injury, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and Parkinson’s, can be treated,” he added.
In the country, MakatiMed is one of only four hospitals accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) to engage in cell-based therapy in the Philippines under DOH Administrative Order No. 2013-0012.
The MakatiMed’s Cellular Therapeutics Center carries out Institutional Review Board-approved stem cell procedures as required by the DOH using adult stem cells in a clean room class 100 facility. What this means is the laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment from the United States, Germany, and Japan. It ensures 90-to-95 percent cell purity and viability, making this treatment paradigm on par with international measures.
MakatiMed’s recent participation in the International Society for Cellular Therapy Annual Convention in Singapore is a testament to the capabilities of its Cellular Therapeutics Center.
“We presented a case report of an ischemic cardiomyopathy [heart disease] patient who was closely monitored for 15 months after stem cell administration,” Chung said.
“In addition, our clinical report on the safety and potential utility of stem cells to treat psoriasis was recently accepted in a peer-reviewed international journal, Cell Transplantation. We continue to partake and innovate as we witness the significant evolution of medicine to precision medicine through stem cell therapy,” he added.