As the late, great Maya Angelou wrote in her poem “On Aging”: “When my bones are stiff and aching, and my feet won’t climb the stair, I will only ask one favor: Don’t bring me no rocking chair.” She was, ultimately, entreating the reader to not pity her—or anyone—wizened by the passage of time. However, what she should’ve been asking for was stem cells. Though at times a hot-button controversial topic in American politics, the research and eventual use of stem cells has proven a boon to those suffering from a variety of otherwise untreatable ailments—especially that one ailment that sooner or later plagues us all: getting old. But what is stem cell therapy? And what can it do?
Understanding Stem Cell Therapy
In the 1960s, Ernest McCulloch and James Till from Ontario Cancer Institute in Canada stumbled upon the existence of stem cells while examining the effects of radiation in the bone marrow of mice. They learned that these particular cells would replicate themselves and copy the cells of specific organs. In essence, stem cells are regenerative cells and are building blocks capable of patching up damaged tissues.
The discovery of stem cells and the resultant therapy was considered a medical sensation. Stem cells are in every part of our body—in our organs and in our tissue. It is the engine that propels our body’s regenerative processes. When we are young, our ability to renew and heal our cells is at its peak. However, the process of aging slows down our cellular and tissue turnover. With age, the number of stem cells we have decreases, which consequently causes our system to develop such diseases as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, or suffer heart ailments and strokes.
This is where the benefits of stem cells hold so much promise. With stem cell therapy, the body’s ability to replace dysfunctional tissue and organs is revived. With healthier tissues and organs, the body has the ability to reverse damage and disease. After all, the ability to live long and full of vigor and vitality is achievable if you are able to keep your organs and tissue young.
How Stem Cells Can Impact Your Health
Stem cells can duplicate themselves, and copy the cell of a specific organ where it is attached. A normal cell does not exhibit these two qualities. Normal cells have limited generations of duplication available to them, and they cannot stay alive forever. The exhaustion of the organ cells ability to regenerate can be restored through the introduction of stem cells into the damaged tissues.
This is where the magic begins. As soon as stem cells attach to the damaged tissues, cytokines and signaling molecules carried by the stem cells stimulate the native cell organs to regenerate and renew. Likewise, the release of cytokines and signaling molecules triggers a host of other restorative processes. For example:
- Cytokines help with the reduction of inflammation caused by most diseases.
- Cytokines help modulate autoimmune diseases by going straight to the cell that activated the autoimmune responses.
- As inflammation and autoimmune responses are ceased, the body’s capability to regenerate can be optimized, resulting in quicker healing and recovery.
Stem Cell Therapy: Beyond the Controversy
Stem cells have traditionally been harvested from human embryos, which drew a great deal of public outcry when that fact became widely known. So much outcry, in fact, that President George W. Bush banned the federal funding for a large swath of stem cell research initiatives. (Funding was since restored during the Obama Administration.) In that time, scientists have been able to cultivate stem cells from other sources as well.
As modern medicine developed innovative techniques in harvesting stem cells, the application of this medical breakthrough also evolved. Now they curb diseases, renew dysfunctional cells and fight a plethora of medical conditions, like heart and liver diseases, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease… the list goes on.
The True Fountain of Youth
Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon may have sailed far and wide in search of the Fountain of Youth, but he apparently just needed a microscope. Are your knees aching from years running? There’s a stem cell injection for that. Is arthritis making it painful to grasp things in your hands? There’s a stem cell injection for that, too. The uses for this cutting-edge therapy are growing by the day, and with each innovative application, stem cells evolve beyond treating illnesses and ailments to become the panacea for the aging process that affects us all. To paraphrase Maya Angelou: “I’m the same person I was back then… ain’t I lucky I got a stem cell treatment?”