The science of regenerative stem cells has developed a great deal over the last several years. In fact, Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Therapy are the wave of the future in medicine and could even be the future of your personal health and longevity. Stem cells are being used in many applications, including helping patients with chronic pain, to recover from chemotherapy, and to help with heart disease. Along with their treatment of serious diseases, stem cells are also being used by dermatologists and plastic surgeons to help combat certain skin conditions.
Dr. Alina Sholar, the founder of Skin Science Soul in Austin, Texas, explains what is unique about regenerative stem cells and how they could be a powerful, untapped source of medical treatment.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are known as the body’s raw materials– the foundation cells of our bodies. They are primitive cells that can develop into all of the specialized cells in the body. These highly specialized cell that make up our organs and tissues originally came from an initial pool of stem cells that formed shortly after fertilization. Throughout our lives, we rely on stem cells to repair injured tissues and replace cells that are lost every day, like those of the skin, gut, blood, and muscles. Under the right conditions, either in the body or in a laboratory, stem cells can divide to form daughter cells.
Daughter cells can become other stem cells or become specialized cells in a process called differentiation. Differentiation allows the stem cell to become a blood cell, brain cell, heart muscle cell, or bone cell. Stem cells are the only cell in the body that can generate new cell types.
There are basically three types of stem cells: fetal embryonic stem cells, autologous adult stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells (also known as infinity cells).
Currently, there are a few different stem cell sources utilized frequently. These are the autologous adult stem cell and the umbilical cord stem cell. Embryonic stem cells are not used outside of research and their use is extremely controversial.
It was discovered in the 1980’s that adults still have some of their own stem cells in adipose tissue. Over the course of research over the following years, it was revealed that there were some limitations to what these cells were capable of, including the quality and quantity of those cells based on our age and our health. Adult stem cells can also be obtained from a person’s bone marrow, but are not as durable and versatile as embryonic stem cells and cannot easily be manipulated to produce all needed cell types, which limits their disease-fighting potential.
Umbilical cord stem cells have several advantages over autologous stem cells. They are undifferentiated cells so they do not required HLA matching and have no potential for an adverse immune response. This “immune priviledge” means they can be given to anyone. They are more potent, robust, and consistent in their efficacy as compared to autologous stem cells from adipose or bone marrow origin. They have the most optimal anti-inflammatory capacity and have the best ability to stimulate regeneration of all the stem cell types used today.
What Can Stem Cells Do?
The root of all illness and aging is simply degeneration. Therefore, the solution is regeneration, which is where stem cells come in. Stem cells regenerate new tissue and act as your body’s internal repair system. The exciting potential in the use of stem cells comes from the cell’s ability to develop into any cell type in the body. Healthy stem cells are cultivated and added to the part of the body where the cells need to be refreshed. This means that stem cells can take on the role of joint cartilage cells, bone marrow cells, or skin cells, among many others.
Stem cells can also help patients recover from surgery. They can be used together with skin grafts to help patients with severe burns. They can help to the recovery after orthopedic surgeries. Alternatively, they can also be used to help heal injuries to prevent from requiring surgery altogether.
How Can Stem Cells Rejuvenate the Skin?
For use in skin therapies, stem cells are generally either harvested from the patients’ own fat tissues or umbilical cord stem cells are used. A 2020 study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery detailed some of the ways in which stem cell therapy can rejuvenate the skin. In the study, stem cells were injected under the skin of the face. Three to four months later, skin samples from the treated area were compared to areas that had not been treated. Structural analysis under a microscope demonstrated that stem cell treatment improved the overall skin structure. Treated areas showed some reversal of sun-related damage to the elastin network, which is the main area of the skin affected. In the layers below the skin surface, stem-cell treated areas exhibited regeneration of a new network of fiber bundles. In deeper skin layers, degraded deposits of sun-damaged elastin were brought back to normal.
The researchers concluded that stem cells could lead to the regeneration of sun-damaged skin. Rebuilding skin structures leads to a better-looking, more youthful appearance. Dr. Alina Sholar uses this technology at Skin Science Soul.
Likewise, Dr. Alina Sholar uses stem cells to treat hair loss. Stem cells, along with Platelet-Rich Plasma, are applied to the scalp or eyebrows in a series of treatments to regenerate hair follicles and to stimulate new hair growth for patients experiencing alopecia and male pattern baldness.
More Possibilities for Stem Cells
Stem cells also have the potential to help with chronic pain. Many studies indicate that stem cell therapy may be effective in treating chronic joint pain, chronic back pain, bulging vertebral discs, knee injuries, arthritis, hip labral tears, and tendinitis.
Exploring New Potential Treatments
Dr. Alina Sholar is at the forefront of plastic surgeons and regenerative medicine physicians who use stem cell treatments to help their patients live better lives. The use of stem cells means that patients’ bodies have the power to heal and regenerate themselves.