by Michelle De Vera, M.D., FAAAAI
Someone once said, “What is the point in living forever, if it is not with the man (or woman) I love?”
Indeed, true love may be immortal. But alas, man is not.
Neither are our cells or tissues. Red blood cells have a lifespan of about four months. White blood cells may last up to one week. Cells lining the gastrointestinal tract live as short as two days, while many regard our brain as having cells that last our entire lifetime. If there is constant death and degeneration of our cells, how then are we capable of surviving and growing old? Or better yet, how do we grow old with the one we love?
We may not realize it, but most of our organs have a group of immature cells that can differentiate into their respective specialized populations whether as part of daily upkeep, or as part of regeneration in response to injury. These are called progenitor cells, or what we know as stem cells.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are capable of renewing themselves. These are present in most organ systems in stem cell niches, which are centers for cellular regeneration. For most of our daily needs and in the absence of injury, these stem cells are usually sufficient to replace lost cells and enable us to continue with our daily functions unaffected.
In times of disease, however, the quantity and potency of these endogenous stem cells (or cells originating from our own body) may be insufficient to repair damaged tissues. In these cases, exogenous (derived from an external source) or non-tissue-specific stem cells may be used to help in the regenerative process. This is the rationale behind using stem cells as therapy for certain diseases, particularly in the field of Regenerative Medicine. The use of stem cells in regenerative medicine highlights the centrality of our own immune system in this process – both in surveillance and recognizing where the injury and damage is, and in signalling and directing stem cells on what to do.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that mobilization of endogenous stem cells or exogenous administration of a number of stem cell populations to injured tissues has resulted in structural regeneration of tissue as well as functional improvement. Innovative stem cell therapy has been used in diseases such as myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, stroke, neurodegenerative diseases, graft-versus-host disease, and for autoimmune diseases, given their ability to modulate host immune response.
Cellular and stem cell therapy has also been used for cancers. The use of directed immune therapy employs the activation of our own immune system to kill cancer cells and generate therapeutic immunity against cancer. An example of this is the use of Dendritic Cell Vaccines; wherein the patient’s own dendritic cells (which are important for presenting different elements to the immune system), cultured from his own blood cells or bone marrow stem cells, are engineered to recognize cancer markers. Reintroduced into the patient’s body, these cells help the immune system in directly recognizing and eliminating deranged tumor cells, and also later give rise to daughter cells that can already see beyond the evasion techniques that cancer cells employ.
Immortality – certainly not the goal of stem cell therapy. But harnessing its capabilities in helping our body heal itself impacts overall health, and might help us live and feel well for as long as possible.
At The Medical City (TMC), the Institute for Personalized Molecular Medicine or IPMM has the technology, and the scientific and medical expertise to harness these cells. It enables a truly personal approach to healthcare by understanding that each person is unique, and by customizing the roadmap to health down to the molecular and cellular level. The IPMM can help patients in identifying molecular errors of disease, and eventually delivering molecular interventions specifically developed to address these. This service is applicable to multiple diseases, such as cancer, degenerative diseases, and diseases of immunity.
IPMM is a unit of The Medical City focused on the delivery of personalized molecular medicine treatments. The backbone of the IPMM is Regenerative Medicine, a revolutionary field involving the engineering of cells and other biomaterials to restore or replace organ function lost or impaired due to disease, injury or aging, and ultimately improving the quality of life.
IPMM is one of the very few accredited Human Stem Cell and Cell-based Therapy Programs in the country, with accreditation granted by the Department of Health in November 2014.
For appointments and inquiries, please call TMC-IPMM at (632) 988 1000 / (632) 988 7000 loc 6307 / 6551, or visit www.themedicalcity.com.