stem cell therapy

Safety of stem cell therapy

The popularity of stem cell therapy is increasing every minute, and it is no surprise considering the many benefits it can provide for a wide selection of diseases.

However, despite everything it can do in the body, it is yet to become a mainstream option in conventional medicine. The major reason is that this therapy hasn’t been popular for too long and while it is understood well, there’s still a lot that isn’t known. This makes people apprehensive.

Are stem cell treatments safe? This article is here to answer that question and others that you might have. Let’s talk about it.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of becoming almost any other type in the body. Undifferentiated means that they are yet to develop into a final form and are blank slates.

There are different kinds based on how many other cells they have the potential to differentiate into it. Here are the primary types relevant for clinical purposes:

  • Pluripotent: These have the potential to become a part of pretty much any tissue in the body.
  • Multipotent: These can differentiate into a range of cells.
  • Unipotent: This type is only capable of turning into one type.

Where do stem cells come from?

These cells have amazing properties, but where do they come from? The ones used in treating patients have to originate from a human being, regardless of age.

However, there are different sources and it is important to know all about them before going for any treatment.

  1. Adult or tissue-specific stem cells: These are harvested from the tissue of a fully-formed human. The most important kind is mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can be found in a variety of tissues, and most of those used for therapeutic purposes are multipotent.
  2. Embryonic stem cells: The name gives it away, but these are derived from human embryos. The most ethical source is fertilized embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) that are not going to be implanted. Parents can choose to donate these extra embryos for research or treatment purposes. These are pluripotent.
  3. Induced pluripotent stem cells: These start taken from normal tissues in the body, but they are reprogrammed in the lab, or “induced”, to become stem cells. They are pluripotent.

How do stem cells work in treatment?

Before you can understand the side effects of stem cell therapy, you need to have an understanding of how they are used in treating patients.

These cells work in more than one way. One mechanism they use is the release of helpful substances like cytokines and chemokines into the surrounding tissue. Depending on the exact substance that is secreted, these can have a range of effects, such as reducing inflammation or inducing the formation of new blood vessels.

They are also valuable in the therapy of difficult-to-treat medical conditions like neurodegenerative diseases. This class of diseases affects a system in the body that is known for its inability to regenerate to any significant degree. However, with this treatment, undifferentiated cells can differentiate and directly repair or replace the damaged tissues in diseases like stroke or Alzheimer’s.

Therapeutic effects

Thanks to some of their natural properties, stem cells can bring about a lot of positive effects in tissues and organs. Here are some of the therapeutic benefits that they can provide:

  1. They can regulate the intrinsic regeneration potential of some tissues by promoting tissue growth.
  2. They can self-insert and induce the regeneration of tissues that usually don’t regenerate.
  3. They can reduce inflammation in tissues.
  4. They can regulate immune responses, making them useful in treating autoimmune diseases.
  5. They can promote the growth of new blood vessels and reinitiate blood flow to tissues.
  6. They can promote the natural repair of tissues and wound healing.

Is stem cell therapy safe?

Are stem cells safe? Most people who are considering opting for their first treatment will usually ask this question, and it’s a valid one.

For the most part, the answer is yes. They are not a panacea that can be used to cure any disease without the risk of side effects. Just like medications and other therapeutic procedures, stem cell therapy is majorly safe, but some minor side effects might be seen.

However, most side effects can be avoided when you choose the best stem cell therapy clinic that you can find. Some side effects, such as infection, are entirely avoidable when performed by experienced professionals.

What are the side effects of stem cell therapy?

The side effects seen after receiving treatment are not anything to worry too much about in most cases. The adverse effects are typically specific to the route this treatment was administered.

With intravenous or intrathecal infusions, these might be the side effects seen:

  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pain at the site of the injection

When administered intrathecally, around the spinal cord, patients may also experience mild neurological symptoms like muscle weakness or loss of sensation in some parts of the body.

In some cases, like with arthritis, the injection is made directly into the affected site instead of relying on the bloodstream to carry it there. The side effects seen in these cases are a bit different but mostly revolve around the administration site.

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Loss of sensation
  • Infection of the injection site

However, one of the most popular fears with the therapeutic administration of stem cells is that they can develop into cancer. The good thing is that recent studies have shown that the chance of these containing mutations implicated in cancer is basically zero. In fact, on the contrary, they have been shown to play a role in suppressing cancer!

Final thoughts

Stem cells are the source of a lot of hope in the medical field as they can make diseases that were previously very difficult to treat and manage. However, with slow mainstream adoption and its relative recency compared to other established medical treatments, many people worry about this form of therapy’s side effects and safety.

Fortunately, there’s little to worry about as side effects are rare and the ones most commonly seen are minor. There is also next to no risk of cancer developing after stem cell treatment. 

With this in mind, why not take the first step towards bettering the health of you or your loved ones with this revolutionary therapy?