Karen Boyd, a 46-year-old woman from Traverse City, has been coping with multiple sclerosis (MS) for over 11 years. “It's where your own immune system attacks itself” she said. Boyd was first diagnosed in 2005, when she started taking several medications to help alleviate her symptoms. “I was missing out on a lot. I was tired all the time, I couldn't get through the day, I would have to go home and take a nap. I wasn't getting the cooking and cleaning done like I felt like I should” said Boyd. She also said she continuously experienced numbness in her hands and feet.
Regardless of her intake of multiple medications, in 2010, she started to lose her ability to use her right leg. “I couldn't walk. I had to have a walker or wheelchair or cane to walk,” said Boyd. She then started taking another type of aggressive drug that brought her walking ability back; however, she recalled that the drug made her feel nauseous.
Most recently, Boyd discovered StemGenex, a medical group in the United States, committed to providing stem cell therapy to patients around the world. StemGenex strives to help individuals suffering from inflammatory and degenerative diseases achieve better health and overall quality of life by using the healing properties of their own stem cells. Groundbreaking research has shown that adult stem cell therapy can slow down the progression of MS by repairing damage caused to the central nervous system (CNS).
Stem cell therapy is a treatment that targets stem cells, which are forms of cells that separate into several different specialized cells within the human body. “The patient undergoes a simple mini liposuction to obtain the patient's own fat cells. It's processed in the lab to obtain both the stem cells and a cellular fraction separated from the fat. It's infused back into the patient, and some other parts of the patient's body which might be impacted are also injected with this collection of cells containing the stem cells,” said Dr. Steven Brody, Chief Scientific Officer at StemGenex.
Is it worth the cost?
Stem cell therapy costs $20,000 and it is not covered by insurance. Regardless of the cost, Boyd said receiving the three-day procedure changed her life – making it priceless. “I go to work, I come home, like I said I'm cooking, I'm cleaning. Realizing how much I've deprived everything because I haven't had the energy. My husband said to me the other day, 'I feel like I have my best friend back again,' and hearing that was pretty cool,” she said. Boyd said she is able to feel her fingertips again and given the chance, she would do the procedure all over again. “If you can get just part of your life back, it's so worth the journey. It makes everything worthwhile,” she said.
The potential for stem cell treatment
Adult stem cells are considered diverse and effective healing agents for a wide range of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lung disease, and two different forms of arthritis. According to Dr. Brody, more than half of the patients that undergo stem cell therapy are battling MS. To date, over a million adult stem cell procedures and counting have been performed, countless of which have resulted in improved health and overall well-being.
For any type of treatment for MS, it is necessary to determine the underlying cause of autoimmunity, that results from the body’s attack on the CNS. This, in turn, triggers damage to the neurological tissue and the protective myelin sheath, thereby resulting in demyelination. Currently, treatment for MS involves medications that may help to alleviate symptoms; however, at the expense of severe side effects. The majority of MS medications focus on slowing down the activity within the immune system but they do not help regenerate the lost myelin. Recent research indicates that stem cell therapy has the potential to address both fundamental causes of MS, including:
- The ability to repair the damage caused to neurons and to stimulate the lost myelin
- The ability to suppress inflammatory responses and hinder inflammation
Moreover, stem cell therapy has been shown to help improve some of the symptoms associated with MS. Such improvements include:
- Greater concentration
- Improved focus, memory, and speech
- Improved vision
- Increased muscle strength, energy, and mobility
- Improved balance and coordination
- Improved bladder function and increased sexual function
- Reduced/eliminated numbness and tingling
- Reduced/eliminated muscle spasms
- Reduced/eliminated headaches
- Reduced/eliminated acute or chronic pain
- Reduced/eliminated depression
How is stem cell therapy done?
Stem cell therapy involves a simple liposuction procedure where the patient’s adipose tissue (also known as fat tissue) is extracted from their body, then assessed by laboratory technicians and later infused back into the patient’s body in the stem cell treatment centre. Adipose tissue includes a wide range of cell types including the stromal-vascular fraction (SVF). The SVR contains increased levels of beneficial factors, including T-regulatory cells, anti-inflammatory macrophage, endothelial precursor cells, and preadipocytes.
Minimal side effects
The side effects associated with the procedure are minimal and may include: minor swelling, bruising and redness around the site, headache, nausea, and minor fever. However, they usually last no more than 24 hours and to date, no long-term side effects or risks of the procedure have been reported. Research indicates that adipose-derived stem cells can be isolated more easily and have a higher immunomodulatory capability. Moreover, they have the ability to generate additional cells in order to ensure proper cellular function and to selectively repair damaged tissue within the body as a result of MS. In the near future, stem cell therapy is expected to exceed the traditional drug therapy used for MS.
New clinical studies for MS
StemGenex is currently funding a clinical study, known as “Outcomes of Data of Adipose Stem Cells to Treat Multiple Sclerosis”, along with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Multiple Sclerosis. The study has been recognized to assess and record the changes in patients following stem cell therapy for the purpose of improving the quality of life of individuals with MS. If you want to know if you are an eligible candidate for adult stem cell therapy, you need to complete a form with your medical history provided by the StemGenex medical group. Once you have completed and sent in the form, the medical team will go through your health records in order to determine if you are qualified to undergo the procedure.
Creating an optimal environment
“You have to create an appropriate environment for these cells to function in. If you are putting garbage into your body and you’re constantly burdening your body with toxins, your stem cells are getting too distracted trying to fight off those toxins. By creating an appropriate environment, optimizing your diet and reducing exposure to toxins, that will allow the stem cells that we’re putting in to really home in and focus on the tissue that we’re trying to treat. The other thing we’ve discovered over the years is that [stem cell therapy] is not the type of thing where you take one dose and you’re cured forever. Your tissues are constantly getting damaged…You’re going to have to repeat-dose and use those stem cells to your advantage. When you think about a lizard that loses its tail, it takes two years to grow back the tail. Why would we put unrealistic expectations on the stem cells that we’re trying to apply to repair or replace damaged tissue? This is a very slow process. This is something that will occur over months and may require repeat dosing,” said Kristin Comella, stem cell researcher.
This is an exciting time for innovative research relating to the potential benefits of stem cell therapy: slowing down MS progression and repairing damage to the CNS. In order to explore the progressive forms of the disease more in-depth, all stem cells must be explored in terms of safety, effectiveness, and delivery. Although the results of clinical trials hold a great deal of promise, the area of research is still in its early stage and further research needs to be conducted before stem-cell therapies can become a standard treatment option available for MS.