Could Your Medicine be a Cell, Rather than a Pill?
For the past 100 years the model for medicine has aimed at the concept of “killing.” Since the advent of penicillin, natural and synthetic forms of antibiotics have been largely successful in the treatment of pneumonia and other bacterial diseases. The model was so successful that it has also been used in treatment of other diseases, such as chemotherapy for cancer, where a chemical seeks out and kills a microbe or particle thought to cause the disease.
This treatment has only been marginally successful. Actually, of the thousands of physiological dysfunctions that result in disease, only a small portion have been able to be treated through this approach.
Scientists are now exploring a perceptual switch, one that focuses on a new metaphor of “growing.” In this new paradigm of Regenerative Medicine, scientists explore the physiology and function of stem cells and ways to utilize them to heal disease by regenerating healthy tissue.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells and are found in various adult tissues, such as bone marrow and fat cells. They can
grow indefinitely and change into other types of cells, taking on their properties like cartilage, muscle, tendon or ligament tissue. Stem cells can also be activated on a local level by alpha granules, or growth factors, contained in blood platelets. This process is enhanced through Platelet Rich Plasma, PRP, a therapy that condenses these cells and injects them into the damaged tissue.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD, presents this concept of a changing metaphor for the treatment of disease in his TED Talks video. Dr. Mukherjee is a physician and researcher at Columbia University, and a staff physician at Columbia University Medical Center.
Along with the healing of soft tissue injuries, osteoarthritis and its cause are an ideal application for stem cells therapy. Dr. Mukherjee speculates that osteoarthritis is a result of the dysfunction of stem cell regeneration. As we age, stem cells fail to regenerate and regrow new tissue at a rate necessary to maintain healthy function of cartilage. The normal rate of degeneration continues, but regeneration declines, resulting in increasingly arthritic tissue. Intervention in this cycle by stimulation of stem cell growth through injection of condensed platelets enhances the natural process of cell regeneration and healthier tissue.