Stem cells: What are the facts?

FEATURE — Stem cells, a form of regenerative medicine, has become a hot topic in medical literature, and patients have become interested in what regenerative medicine can do for them. Regenerative medicine employs treatments that have the potential to help the body heal, restore and establish normal function.

One area of regenerative medicine that may have the potential to treat chronic painful conditions involves the use of stem cells. Because stem cell treatment is relatively new, here are some frequently asked questions about stem cell treatment to help explain the potential benefits and concerns with these types of services.

What are stem cells?

Our body is made of cells. At one point, every cell in our body came from a stem cell. Stem cells are cells that have the potential capability to become other cells within their lineage and also have the potential to signal to cells around them to perform certain functions.

A good way to think about them is that they are like parent cells that can give rise to other cells. Depending on the type of stem cell, it can potentially become bone, muscle, nerve or organ tissues. They may also help other cells perform their functions properly and efficiently.

Why are stem cells being used?

Stem cells have the potential to help diseased or damaged tissue regain its function, as well as the potential to replace the improperly functioning or damaged cells.

Where do stem cells come from?

Stem cells can come from a variety of sources. Stem cells can come from adipose tissue (fat), bone marrow, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood or embryos.

Stem cells used for treatment are not derived from embryos. Stem cells can be donated from others or harvested from the patient they are for.

How are stem cells used for treatment?

Stem cells are harvested or donated and come in a liquid form. They can then be injected into various parts of the body or infused into the blood stream.

What types of conditions are treated with stem cells?

There are several disorders and diseases being treated by stem cells. Some cancers and blood disorders have been treated with bone marrow transplants for years. Use of stem cells in diseases such as heart failure and other organ failures are being studied.

Stems cells have also been used and studied to treat degenerative and chronic diseases, including osteoarthritis (joint pain) and degenerative disc disease (spine pain). However, most uses of stem cells are not yet well studied and are considered experimental. Because of this, most treatments are not typically covered by insurance.

How effective and safe is stem cell treatment?

Effectiveness and safety for some treatments, such as bone marrow transplants, is well documented and understood. Effectiveness for treatment of osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease is still not known. Doctors have seen some patients do very well from stem cell treatments, but good quality research has not yet been performed to validate the effectiveness and safety.

Where can you find stem cell treatment in St. George?

The physicians of Southwest Spine and Pain, with several locations throughout the state, including two locations in the St. George area and one in Hurricane, are trained to perform stem cell treatments and offer these treatments to patients when appropriate. They are also involved with a research study looking at stem cell treatment for degenerative disc disease.

Written by Bryt Christensen and Rick Obray  for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Bryt Christensen
Bryt Christensen

Dr. Bryt Christensen attended the University of Utah School of Medicine, earning an international award for his spine research. After completing a surgical internship in Charlotte, North Carolina, Christensen began a physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Christensen was later elected to serve as chief resident and completed a multidisciplinary pain medicine fellowship at Johns Hopkins, learning the most up-to-date image-guided procedures, anesthesiology, physical medicine, neurology and psychiatry techniques.

Rick Obray
Rick Obray

After completing a spine and musculoskeletal fellowship at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Rick Obray then completed an interventional pain fellowship at Mayo Clinic, making him one of the few physicians in the country to complete fellowship training in both pain medicine and diagnostic imaging. Obray offers the latest in minimally invasive image guided procedures, is an active clinical research investigator and brings a unique multidisciplinary perspective to his patients.

St. George Health and Wellness website

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2 Comments

  • mesaman December 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    I knew it! I’m not fat, just a storage warehouse of adipose tissue waiting to be provided. I’m preparing a prospectus for the medical profession on how they can be part of the harvesting, at their expense, I might add.

    • .... December 12, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      What a joke….BITE ME. !

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