MANILA, Philippines — This type of stem cell therapy does not claim to be the fountain of youth, but an alternative treatment to arthritis, muscle pain and tendon tear.
Two Filipino doctors who trained in the United States said in a media forum on Sunday that autologous stem cell therapy could speed up the healing of musculoskeletal and sports-related injuries, which could be an optional remedy before undergoing surgery.
Dr. Jeimylo de Castro explained that the procedure would involve taking stem cells from the patient’s blood, fat tissue or bone marrow and injecting them to the injured area of the same person. This type of therapy is different from the controversial embryonic stem cells which are harvested from animals or fertilized eggs.
With stem cell therapy being a current fad for anti-aging, the Department of Health has warned the public that the benefits of stem cell therapy are still under evaluation. The DOH will soon issue guidelines for the use of stem cell therapy and the licensing of facilities offering this service.
De Castro and Dr. Franklin Domingo are both fellows of the Philippine Academy of Rehabilitation Medicine. They underwent training for stem cell therapy under Dr. Joseph Purita of the Institute of Regenerative and Molecular Orthopaedics, and Dr. Sherwin Kevy of Harvard’s Immune Disease Institute.
“If you have arthritis and you take anti-inflammatory drugs, you will not feel the pain so you will move around and further damage the cartilage. Whereas stem cells will regenerate tissues and ease the pain, making the damaged cells become young again,” De Castro said.
Domingo likened the stem cells to high school students who have no career yet and could be trained to be professionals in a field where they are needed. So if the stem cells are injected into an injured knee, they will develop into tissues that hasten the recovery of the area.
According to Domingo, stem cell therapy is not for everybody and is not a quick-fix solution because it uses the body’s natural ability to heal.
Patients who have cancer and infection are not allowed to undergo stem cell therapy, and so are those under the influence of alcohol or who have taken blood-thinning medicine like Coumadin at the time of extraction.
“How effective the treatment will be depends on how healthy your stem cells are,” Domingo said. “So you still need to lead a healthy lifestyle.”
“If your knee hurts and you underwent stem cell therapy but you remained overweight, the relief will not last forever. You have to lose weight, too,” Domingo said. “Stem cell therapy is not the only treatment, but part of a whole spectrum of treatment that enhances healing.”
De Castro said 60 cubic centimeters of blood would be the optimum amount to be extracted in harvesting stem cells. A centrifuge machine will isolate the stem cells from the blood, which will then be injected to the injured area.
For severe arthritis in old people, a combination of stem cells from the blood, fat tissue and bone marrow will be used for the initial injection but just stem cells from the blood will do for young people.
“When we are young, we have a lot of stem cells. As we speak, we have stem cells. But the number dwindles as we grow older,” Domingo explained.
After four to six weeks, depending on the healing effect, another batch of stem cells from the blood will be injected, which costs P25,000 per session. The three combined sources of stem cells will be more expensive due to the harvesting procedure.
Domingo and De Castro currently practices autologous stem cell therapy at Southern Luzon Hospital Medical Center in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. They plan to open American Stem Cell Center in Makati City in 2013.