Medical Regeneration: PRP, Stem Cells, and More

Introduction

Regenerative medicine refers to a relatively new branch of medicine that serves to heal illnesses by replacing or repairing damaged cells in the body. Ranging from simple transfusions of blood plasma to the replacement of entire organs, regenerative medicine seeks to stop medical problems at the source, rather than simply treat the symptoms of those problems.

 

Types of Regenerative Medicine:

Currently, there are three approaches to regenerative medicine: rejuvenation, replacement, and regeneration.

          Rejuvenation: Rejuvenating medicine typically enhances the body’s natural ability to heal from injuries, allowing injuries to be healed more quickly and allowing the body to heal injuries it might not normally be able to heal. This typically involves manipulating the cells of complex organs (which are normally unable to replicate themselves) such as the heart, lungs, and nerves so that these cells can replicate themselves and thus heal their associated organs, to some extent.

          Replacement: Replacement refers to treatments which replace dead or sick tissue with healthy tissue. This can be as simple as a blood transfusion (wherein lost blood is replaced with healthy blood from a donor) or as complex as an entire organ transplant (wherein an unhealthy organ is replaced with another donated organ). These types of treatments are difficult to perform, however, as there isn’t always an adequate supply of donor organs (or donor tissue). Furthermore, various complications from such procedures, such as rejection of donated tissue by the immune system, make the procedures very risky.

          Regeneration: Regenerative treatments typically involve the injection of certain cells (usually stem cells) into damaged tissue, in order to allow that damaged tissue to rebuild itself. Stem cells are a “blank slate” of sorts: under the right conditions, they can turn into any other type of cell. So, stem cells can be used to make blood, bone, muscle, and any other organic tissue under the right circumstances. Because of these properties, stem cells can be injected into damaged tissue to replace dead or damaged cells.

Treatments Using Regenerative Medicine:

The New York Pain Specialists practices a variety of treatments which utilize regenerative medicine. Some of the more common treatments involving regenerative medicine are PRP Therapy and Stem Cell Therapy.

PRP Therapy:

Human blood has four primary components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Red blood cells carry nutrients through the body, white blood cells eliminate bacteria and other foreign microbes, platelets are cell fragments (cell-like structures with no nuclei) that help blood clot during injuries, and blood plasma is a liquid solution which allows the blood cells to flow through the body as a liquid. Whenever a blood vessel is damaged, blood platelets are the first to react and repair the damage. Further medical research has discovered that blood platelets are also responsible for releasing a variety of growth factors that, during an injury, will stimulate the production of reparative cells in order to allow the tissue to heal. Doctors have found a way to exploit this phenomenon in order to allow the body to heal itself faster, creating a procedure known as Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, or PRP Therapy.

PRP Therapy involves extracting blood from a patient. The blood is taken from the patient specifically in order to minimize any potential negative reactions that might occur if donated blood is used. The extracted blood is then processed through a medical device called a centrifuge. A centrifuge, for those unfamiliar, is a device that separates the components of a mixture by spinning it around quickly. When blood is processed in a centrifuge, it is split into its four components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. After the blood is separated, the red blood cells and white blood cells are removed, leaving only a concentrated mixture of blood platelets. The blood platelets can then be directly injected into any damaged tissue within the patient’s body, allowing said platelets to release their growth factors and accelerate the healing of the damaged tissue. The injection is usually numbed with local anesthetic, applied in the form of a topical gel. Using this technique, a variety of different injuries can be treated, including damage to the muscles, ligaments, and bone. Various chronic illnesses can also be treated with this process, including (but not limited to) tendinosis (cellular damage to the tendons), osteoarthritis (degeneracy of the bone joints), and urinary incontinence. PRP Therapy has even been shown to increase one’s sex drive, in both male and female patients.  Because the blood is taken directly from the patient’s body, there are few side effects associated with the treatment, and no significant hazards to the patient’s health.

Stem Cell Therapy:

Stem Cell Therapy is a treatment which involves injecting damaged tissue with stem cells in order to allow said damaged tissue to heal. As stated before, stem cells are a “blank slate” for cells in the body, capable of becoming any type of tissue under the right conditions. This property makes them very effective at healing certain injuries. While initially, stem cells could only be extracted from human fetuses (making the practice very controversial), medical research has revealed that it is possible to extract stem cells from an adult (via their bone marrow) and modify them to have properties similar to those of embryonic stem cells. Though the research into these processes is still relatively new, adult stem cells are already being substituted for embryonic stem cells in certain medical treatments.

In the New York Pain Specialists, adult stem cell therapy is used to treat muscle injuries and damage to the bones and tendons. Like PRP Therapy, Adult Stem Cell Therapy involves extracting cells from the patient’s own body, concentrating those cells with a medical device, and reinjecting those cells into damaged tissue. During Adult Stem Cell Therapy, bone marrow is extracted from the patient, usually through the hip bones. The stem cells are then isolated from the bone marrow and are placed in a cell culture to grow. These stem cells are then injected into the patient’s damaged tissue, where they will replace any lost cells and allow the tissue to heal. As with PRP Therapy, there are few associated risks with this treatment due to the use of the patient’s own stem cells.

The Future of Regenerative Medicine:

          Regenerative medicine has the potential to completely change the way we approach health care. By enhancing the body’s own ability to heal itself, it is possible to treat and even cure various illnesses without enduring the side-effects of prescription drugs. Though the field is still in its infancy, it is growing rapidly, with new treatments being developed every year. In the near future, stem cells might be easier (and less controversial) to harvest and use for various injuries, allowing their increased use in treating chronic illnesses and severe injuries. Certain biomaterials are being developed that will give cells an increased surface area on which to grow, allowing artificial tissue to be produced and transplanted into a patient that needs it. Said artificial tissue might one day be used to produce an artificial organ, capable of replacing a sick or dead organ without the need for a donor, and preferably without the complications of organ rejection. With these technological advances on the way, regenerative medicine is on the path to better the quality of healthcare for all.

References:

  1. "About Regenerative Medicine - Center for Regenerative Medicine - Mayo Clinic Research." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <http://www.mayo.edu/research/centers-programs/center-regenerative-medicine/patient-care/about-regenerative-medicine>.
  2. "What Is Regenerative Medicine?" Regenerative Medicine at the McGowan Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <http://www.mirm.pitt.edu/about-us/what-is-regenerative-medicine/>.
  3. "Regenerative Medicine." Karan Johar, MD - New York City Pain Specialists. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <http://www.nycpainspecialists.com/contents/services/regenerative-medicine>.
  4. "Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections." Hospital for Special Surgery. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <https://www.hss.edu/condition-list_prp-injections.asp>.
  5. Charity Karpac / Original Design: Andreas Viklund - Http://andreasviklund.com/. "Platelets on the Web." Platelets. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <https://www.ouhsc.edu/platelets/platelets/platelets%20intro.html>.
  6. "Stem Cells: What They Are and What They Do." Mayo Clinic. N.p., 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 July 2017. <https://www.mayo.edu/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117>.
  7. Marketing Communications: Web // University of Notre Dame. "Adult Stem Cells // Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine // University of Notre Dame." Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2017. <http://stemcell.nd.edu/research/alternative-stem-cell-sources/adult-stem-cells/>.
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