Stem cells have the capacity to regenerate damaged tissues, and are hailed as a potential cure for a range of diseases and injuries. It is a fascinating and rapidly evolving area of research but along with the hype and hope surrounding these powerful cells, come misconceptions and myths. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common misconceptions about stem cells and separate fact from fiction, based on what science says. So, let’s bust some myths and discover what stem cells can really do.
Myth #1. Stem cell treatment is a scam; otherwise, how can one method be effective in managing lots of diseases?
One of the reasons stem cell treatment can be effective across a wide range of diseases is that it utilizes the ability of stem cells to promote tissue repair and regeneration. Stem cells can be used to stimulate the production of new cells, and also have the ability to differentiate into various cell types. This makes them a versatile tool that can be used to replace damaged or dead cells throughout the body.
Stem cells can also be used to regulate the immune system, which makes it a potential treatment for autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis or type 1 diabetes.
They also have many more capabilities that can help to treat numerous other health conditions.
|The development of different diseases involves common basic cellular, immune and metabolic pathophysiological mechanisms, which are mediated by certain biologically active substances. For example, hypoxia (decrease of oxygen supply)-related pathways with HIF-factors-related mechanisms are involved not only in cardiac and respiratory diseases but also in joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis, in degenerative changes in Parkinson’s disease, neuronal injury in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other conditions. The same is for other basic mechanisms which include:|
– angiogenesis (new blood vessels formation);
– apoptosis (naturally coming cell death);
– other systemic pathological processes involved in the development of different diseases.
- Anti-inflammatory and immune-mediated action which is due to MSCs’ effect on immune cells and additional mechanisms that help them to r develop an inflammatory response.
- Angiogenesis – secreting angiogenic factors that help to develop new capillaries (vessels). This in turn leads to an increased blood supply to tissues and improves oxygenation.
- Antioxidant factors production.
- Suppression of apoptosis.
The efficacy of treatment based on MSCs in different diseases is backed by multiple clinical trials. These clinical trials are performed according to all the principles of GCP (good clinical practice) guidelines with non-treated or placebo (false treatment) control groups of patients. The results are published in scientific journals, and the outcome of some of the clinical trials are available for:
- Covid-19 (plus one more);
- systemic lupus (plus one more);
- ischemic stroke;
- heart failure;
Detailed reviews about other diseases will be published soon.
While stem cell treatment is often associated with serious conditions like post-stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, it can potentially apply to many other areas of medicine. For example, stem cells are being explored as a possible treatment for injuries, burns, and even hair loss. As our understanding of stem cells continues to grow, it’s likely that we’ll discover even more ways they can be used to improve human health.
Myth #2. Stem cells may be rejected by the immune system of the recipient
Stem cells can be rejected by the immune system of the recipient during the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) transplant procedure, also known as a bone marrow transplant, which is performed in leukemias and other blood malignancies. HSCs typically have a high level of expression of the human leukocytes antigens (HLA) system on their surface. This can cause the immune system of the recipient to recognize the transplanted cells as foreign antigens and triggers an immune response against them. This can potentially lead to stem cell rejection and requires the donor’s matching and immune suppression during the allogenic (donor’s) HSC treatment procedure.
At our clinic, we use mesenchymal stem cells for the therapy. They are characterized by a low expression of HLA with further auto-downregulation of HLA expression on their surface. This makes MSCs potentially safe for different regenerative medical protocols without the need for donor-recipient matching.
Stem cells have a unique feature that reduces the likelihood of rejection by the recipient’s immune system. They are able to evade immune detection and avoid attacks by the recipient’s immune system. Stem cells have a low level of expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, which are the proteins responsible for triggering an immune response. This means that they are not recognized as foreign by the recipient’s immune system, and do not trigger an immune response.
Stem cells are also able to modulate the immune response of the recipient, and have been shown to have immunosuppressive effects. This reduces the ability of the immune system to attack foreign cells.
Stem cells can also move to areas of inflammation in the body, where they can exert their therapeutic effects. This can be particularly useful to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation is a key driver of disease progression.
Interestingly, stem cells derived from certain sources, such as the umbilical cord, have been shown to have even greater immunomodulatory effects compared to other types of stem cells.
Myth #3. Stem cell treatment causes malignancies
Scientists and patients were concerned about the potential risk of malignancies for years. The secretion of multiple growth factors by MSCs along with their high reproductive potential, caused them to be considered risky for cancer development. However, multiple clinical trials showed that no malignancies developed. Recent publications even suggest the potential role of stem cells in cancer treatment. Based on the mechanism of MSCs’ action, this method still seems to be a double-edged sword and should be used with caution.
However, it is important to understand that stem cell treatment is a complex medical procedure that requires the expertise of trained and experienced medical professionals. Patients should consult with their healthcare providers during all stages of the process to make sure they receive the most appropriate treatment for their specific condition.
Myth #4. Stem cells are only found in embryos, and stem cells are taken from abortions
One of the most persistent myths and ethical concerns around the use of stem cells is that they are only found in embryos but this isn’t true. While embryonic stem cells are one type of stem cell, scientists have also found them in many other parts of the body.
Embryonic stem cells can be obtained from aborted fetuses, but they are not used in therapy as it is heavily regulated and restricted in many countries. Regenerative therapy only uses mesenchymal stem cells, which are typically obtained from adult tissues. This is because adult stem cells are less controversial, more abundant, and less likely to cause complications or rejection.
These adult tissues include:
- The umbilical cord of healthy newborns and the placenta. The ethical concern is that some people believe that using the stem cells in an umbilical cord or the placenta, is equivalent to taking a life. However, both the placenta and umbilical cord are normally discarded after a healthy birth and can be used without harming anyone.
- Adipose tissue (fat).
- Bone marrow.
- Dental pulp, etc.
Myth #5. Stem cell therapy is a risky, experimental procedure
This opinion is based on the FDA statement about the risk of administration site reactions, the ability of stem cells to move from the targeted sites and change into inappropriate cell types or multiply uncontrollably, failing to work as expected, and the growth of tumors. These opinions are based on cases where there were severe adverse effects that were related to invasive procedures, such as intraocular injection and direct injection to the spinal cord. They were mostly due to the use of inappropriate types of cells and violations at some stage of the procedure.
Despite these extensive safety measures, some clinics and practitioners started to offer unproven and potentially dangerous stem cell treatments. These rogue treatments are not representative of the broader industry and have created a negative reputation around the practice as a whole. That’s why it is important for patients to do their research and look for reputable, licensed stem cell clinics to ensure they receive safe and effective treatments.
The difficulties to get FDA approval are related to the challenges of standardizing the investigational protocols, the need to perform multicentric randomized trials at the same time in many countries and the transport of MSCs’ (a very strict temperature regimen). However, in recent years some trial protocols (like this one) have already received FDA approval.
Stem cells are extracted from a patient’s own body or from a donor, which eliminates the risk of immune system rejection or disease transmission that is often associated with other types of transplants.
In addition, stem cell treatments are typically not very invasive and can be performed as an outpatient. This reduces the risk of complications and allows patients to return to their normal routines quickly.
The use of stem cells in medical applications has been extensively researched and refined over the last few decades. Multiple clinical trials have shown that stem cell therapy can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions, from heart disease to spinal cord injuries.
However, some misconceptions around stem cell therapy have led to many people forgoing potentially life-changing treatments due to fear and misinformation. Many of them remain skeptical of stem cell treatment, and there is a growing belief that these treatments are still unregulated and unsafe.
Meanwhile, scientific research and regulatory agencies around the world are continuously disproving the myths surrounding stem cell treatment. The cell-based approach has the potential to revolutionize modern medicine and improve the lives of countless people.
If you or a loved one is dealing with a serious medical condition, it is worth exploring the potential benefits of stem cell treatment and discussing your options with a qualified medical professional.
Get a free online consultation
Contact us to learn more about our stem cell therapy options, and whether you could benefit from the procedure.
MD, Physician in General Medicine, Gastroenterology, Rheumatology, Pulmonology, Cardiology. Regenerative specialist
List of References
Quiñonez-Flores, C.M., González-Chávez, S.A. & Pacheco-Tena, C. Hypoxia and its implications in rheumatoid arthritis. J Biomed Sci 23, 62 (2016).
Pinilla, L. L., Ugun-Klusek, A., Rutella, S., & De Girolamo, L. A. (2021). Hypoxia Signaling in Parkinson’s Disease: There Is Use in Asking “What HIF?”. Biology, 10(8).
Nomura, Emi et al. Imaging Hypoxic Stress and the Treatment of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis with Dimethyloxalylglycine in a Mice Model. Neuroscience vol. 415 (2019): 31-43.
Spees, J. L., Lee, R. H., & Gregory, C. A. (2016). Mechanisms of mesenchymal stem/stromal cell function. Stem cell research & therapy, 7(1), 125.
Fan, L., Zhang, Y., Li, X., & Fu, L. (2020). Mechanisms underlying the protective effects of mesenchymal stem cell-based therapy. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 77(14), 2771-2794.
Gao, F., Chiu, S. M., Motan, D. A., Zhang, Z., Chen, L., Ji, H. L., Tse, H. F., Fu, Q. L., & Lian, Q. (2016). Mesenchymal stem cells and immunomodulation: current status and future prospects. Cell death & disease, 7(1), e2062.
Hou, L., Kim, J. J., Woo, Y. J., & Huang, N. F. (2016). Stem cell-based therapies to promote angiogenesis in ischemic cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 310(4), H455.
Limoli, P. G., Vingolo, E. M., Limoli, C., & Nebbioso, M. (2020). Antioxidant and Biological Properties of Mesenchymal Cells Used for Therapy in Retinitis Pigmentosa. Antioxidants, 9(10).
Gu, Y., Zhang, Y., Bi, Y. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells suppress neuronal apoptosis and decrease IL-10 release via the TLR2/NFκB pathway in rats with hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Mol Brain 8, 65 (2015).
Zhang, M., Yan, X., Shi, M. et al. Safety and efficiency of stem cell therapy for COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Glob health res policy 7, 19 (2022).
Yao, Weiqi et al. Safety and efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells in severe/critical patients with COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine vol. 51 101545. 9 Jul. 2022.
Li, A., Guo, F., Pan, Q., Chen, S., Chen, J., Liu, H., & Pan, Q. (2021). Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy: Hope for Patients With Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Frontiers in Immunology, 12.
Wang, Dandan et al. A Long-Term Follow-Up Study of Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem/Stromal Cell Transplantation in Patients with Drug-Resistant Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Stem cell reports vol. 10,3 (2018): 933-941.
Ouyang, Qian et al. Meta-Analysis of the Safety and Efficacy of Stem Cell Therapies for Ischemic Stroke in Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Stem cells and development vol. 28,8 (2019): 497-514.
Bhawnani, N., Ethirajulu, A., Alkasabera, A., Onyali, C. B., Anim-Koranteng, C., Shah, H. E., & Mostafa, J. A. (2021). Effectiveness of Stem Cell Therapies in Improving Clinical Outcomes in Patients With Heart Failure. Cureus, 13(8), e17236.
Aljabri, Ammar et al. The Safety and Efficacy of Stem Cell Therapy as an Emerging Therapy for ALS: A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Trials. Frontiers in neurology vol. 12 783122. 1 Dec. 2021.
Wang, Y., Huang, J., Gong, L., Yu, D., An, C., Bunpetch, V., Dai, J., Huang, H., Zou, X., Ouyang, H., & Liu, H. (2019). The Plasticity of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Regulating Surface HLA-I. iScience, 15, 66–78.
Wang, Y., Yi, H. & Song, Y. The safety of MSC therapy over the past 15 years: a meta-analysis. Stem Cell Res Ther 12, 545 (2021).
Musiał-Wysocka, A., Kot, M., & Majka, M. (2019). The Pros and Cons of Mesenchymal Stem Cell-Based Therapies. Cell transplantation, 28(7), 801–812.
Aravindhan, S., Ejam, S.S., Lafta, M.H. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells and cancer therapy: insights into targeting the tumour vasculature. Cancer Cell Int 21, 158 (2021).
Liang, W., Chen, X., Zhang, S. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells as a double-edged sword in tumor growth: focusing on MSC-derived cytokines. Cell Mol Biol Lett 26, 3 (2021).
Blum, Barak, and Nissim Benvenisty. The tumorigenicity of human embryonic stem cells. Advances in cancer research vol. 100 (2008): 133-58.