Although the first successful bone marrow transplant occurred in 1956, it wasn’t until a few years later that scientists came to fully understand why the procedure worked: bone marrow contains stem cells. Stem cells are the body’s original transformers. They begin as cells with no specialized function; however, they can develop into one of many different types of cells depending on certain natural or synthetic conditions.
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By 1960, researchers recognized that bone marrow houses two types of stem cells: hematopoietic stem cells, which can generate all types of blood cells, including white and red blood cells, as well as platelets; and stromal (or mesenchymal) stem cells, which can generate various types of connective tissues like bones, cartilage, muscle and fat. When these scientists transplanted healthy bone marrow into diseased or otherwise compromised bodies, they found that stem cells from the healthy bone marrow could, and oftentimes would, form new blood cells in the recipient’s body, thereby ameliorating or even remedying many of the associated illnesses caused by diseased or previously absent cells.
But stem cells aren’t only found in bone marrow. Over the following three and a half decades, research continued in the field of stem cell therapy and was again brought to the forefront of public purview in 1996 with the birth of Dolly using stem cells derived from an adult mammary gland cell. Through the extensive and continuous studies performed around the globe, we now know that stem cells come from a variety of sources, the most versatile and controversial being those obtained from embryonic blastocysts a few days after fertilization. In the United States, embryonic cells have been harvested from unused in vitro fertilization (IVF) samples and are limited in their application according to certain research and federal standards. For actual therapeutic use, most stem cells come from adult tissues (like bone marrow and adipose tissue, as mentioned above). Indeed, scientists have so invested their time and resources into effective stem cell research, that stem cells are now harvested from all over the body at all stages of development. If you’ve ever wondered where doctors get stem cells, here’s a simplified overview:
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic Stem Cells are harvested from:
- Blastocysts – Cells from embryonic blastocysts can become any type of cell in the body and, therefore, have extraordinary potential to treat aging issues, as well as all types of disease. When they need them for medical purposes, scientists and doctors get stem cells from laboratory-derived embryos. But, as mentioned, the federal government restricts funding for new embryonic stem cell lines, and thus, most embryonic stem cells are used for research purposes only.
Tissue-Specific Stem Cells
Tissue-Specific Stem Cells are harvested from postnatal and adult tissues such as:
- Adipose* – Mesenchymal stem cells (usually from the lower abdomen) are collected using lipoaspiration, a less painful method than harvesting bone marrow stem cells, and can be used to possibly facilitate cartilage and other tissue regeneration.
- Bone Marrow* – As noted, bone marrow contains both mesenchymal and hematopoietic stem cells, which can be collected via a bone aspiration in the iliac crest and used to potentially repair many types of degenerative disease.
- Amniotic Fluid – Mesenchymal stem cells are collected from a pregnant woman via amniocentesis and used to grow new tissues to repair her baby’s birth defect(s).
- Cord Blood – Hematopoietic stem cells are collected from umbilical cord blood immediately following birth and used to treat blood cancers, anemia and inherited metabolic disorders. (Once processed, this product contains very few viable stem cells. It does contain growth factors.)
- Cord Tissue – Mesenchymal, epithelial and endothelial stem cells are collected from umbilical cord tissue immediately following birth and can potentially be used to treat issues concerning damaged cartilage, muscle and nerve cells. (Once processed, this product contains very few viable stem cells. It does contain growth factors.)
- Placental Tissue – Placental tissue has a larger volume of stem cells than cord blood, possibly making it a better source of hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells. Research shows that placental stem cells could be used to treat a variety of blood disorders. (Once processed, this product contains very few viable stem cells. It does contain growth factors.)
(* ThriveMD uses a combination of adipose tissue and bone marrow stem cells to treat our patients.)
Want More Information?
Of course, there are many other sources from which doctors can get stem cells. To learn more about stem cell treatment options, including stem cell harvesting, be sure to consult an experienced physician. Stem cell therapy is a promising procedure capable of providing relief for a variety of conditions, but it’s not the right option for everyone. Please contact our team at ThriveMD; we will review your records, answer your questions and help you decide on the right course of action for your own unique needs.