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Stem Cell Basics for Nonprofessionals


When the microwave oven was first introduced as a consumer product in the late 1960s and early 70s, there was widespread panic among the general public that the devices would cause all sorts of medical problems. From cancer to hearing loss and heart failure, people were scared to death to own microwaves. A similar environment exists today concerning stem cell therapy.

A lot of the fear surrounding stem cell therapy is based in misinformation. That misinformation is a combination of ignorance and media reports that focus so much on the negative that they give the illusion that nothing positive is happening. But there are great things happening every day, thanks to organizations like the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI).

For the benefit of readers who might be considering stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis or musculoskeletal issues, here are the basics:

Human Cell Structure

The human body is made up of billions of cells divided into about 200 distinct types. All those types come into existence during the early stages of pregnancy. In fact, the new being in the womb has all the types of cells necessary to develop into a fully formed human by the time the zygote stage of development is complete.

Each of the cells has a nucleus, cytoplasm, and cell membrane. The cells reproduce through the process of cell division. Cell division is best described as replication. Every time a cell divides, the DNA in that cell replicates itself in order to be passed on to the daughter cell.

Stem Cells Are Unique

Stem cells are one of the types of cells that make up the total cell package in the human body. These cells are unique in many ways, beginning with the fact that they are undifferentiated. An undifferentiated cell has no specific function as yet. Stem cells reproduce via both self-renewal and replicating themselves.

There are two kinds of stem cells you may have read about in your own research: pluripotent and multipotent stem cells. The former can generate nearly any other kind of cell the body might need with few exceptions. The latter can also generate many other kinds of cell types, albeit not nearly as many as pluripotent stem cells.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells

When you read about doctors using stem cell injections to treat a sports injury or osteoarthritis, those doctors are using multipotent mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are stem cells found in connective tissue and organs. This is critical to understand. Because of their nature, mesenchymal stem cells are known to aid in the regeneration of cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bones, and even fat cells.

Autologous Stem Cells

Finally, doctors who utilize stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis and sports injuries are not getting their stem cell material from third party donors. Stem cells come directly from the patients being treated, which was why the material is known as autologous material.

Tying this all together, here is what you need to know: doctors utilize multipotent mesenchymal stem cells to treat osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal injuries due to their ability to regenerate connective tissue. Each patient undergoing one of these procedures donates his or her own stem cells, thus virtually eliminating the risk of complications.

Does the idea of getting stem cell injections still sound scary to you? Hopefully not. While there may be some unscrupulous doctors and medical clinics taking advantage of people by offering risky and/or unworkable stem cell treatments, they are very much the exception to the rule.

There is nothing to be afraid of. At least do some research into stem cell therapy before you dismiss it altogether.