Stem cell therapy: How effective is it?

Stem cell therapy is the result of years of research and collaboration among geneticists, clinicians, cell biologists and biotechnologists to develop treatments that will help many people who deal with various forms of cancers and degenerative diseases.  It has been in use for at least 40 years since 1981. Stem cell technology and therapy was preceded by the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1957 conducted by Dr. Donnall Thomas.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are cells in the body from which other specialized cells are produced. They have the capacity to divide and develop into many specialized cell types. The term stem cells typically refer to Mesenchymal stem cells.  These are adult cells that have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, signalling, differentiation, and self-renewal properties.

What are the sources of stem cells?

Stem cells can be extracted from a number of tissue sources including blood, liver, skin, dental pulp, fatty tissues, umbilical cord and bone marrow.  Currently, researchers harvest stem cells from 4 main sources. These are:

Embryonic stem cells, which are harvested from embryos that are about 5 days old. At this stage of the embryo, the cells are described as pluripotent. This means that the cells can divide into more stem cells and can become any type of cell in the body given the right conditions. This makes embryonic stem cells the preferred type for preparations made for therapy.

Adult stem cells, which are usually found in bone marrow or fat tissue. Adult stem cells are not as versatile as embryonic stem cells in dividing into different types of tissue cells, which limits the application of this type of cells for certain therapies. However, research is ongoing to establish the safety and effectiveness of adult stem cells for multiple therapies. Current stem cell therapies mostly use this source of stem cells.

Modified adult stem cells, which are regular adult stem cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. By modifying the adult stem cells this way, medical researchers can direct the cells to develop into specific tissue cells as required by the patient. These modified adult stem cells also have an advantage over embryonic stem cells as it does not present the possibility for an immune rejection by the patient as it sometimes happens with embryonic stem cell therapies.

Perinatal stem cells, which are stem cells derived from amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord blood. These stem cells have a similar development trait as embryonic stem cells. However, further research is required to determine if this is a good source for stem cells for therapies that will not have any negative side effects similar to an immune rejection response. Current stem cell research is focused on this area to validate the use of this type of stem cells.

What is stem cell therapy?

It is a type of medical therapy that uses stem cells to treat or prevent a disease. It is a non-invasive treatment that seeks to replace damaged cells within the body through the introduction of stem cells to the particular area affected by the disease condition. The purpose is to promote the repair response of a poorly functioning, diseased or injured tissue using stem cells or derivatives of stem cells. For example, to repair a diseased heart, medical professionals will grow stem cells in the lab and manipulate the stem cells to develop into heart muscle cells. These generated cells will then be injected into the site of the patient’s heart that has an issue. These stem cells will then enhance the healing of the defective area by growing into fresh cells that will continue to repair the damaged tissue. 

What are the applications for stem cell therapy?

The ability of stem cells to specialize into different tissue cells makes them quite unique. The potential for many applications using stem cells is unlimited. The most common use of stem cell therapy today is in bone marrow transplants. Stem cells from bone marrow are transplanted from the bone after undergoing specialized treatment to the affected area to replace cells that have been damaged by disease conditions or chemotherapy used to treat cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma or neuroblastomas. This same treatment can be applied to other disease states of other tissues and organs of the body. Medical research is ongoing to determine how to make stem cell therapy safer and more efficient. The following list shows the possible applications of stem cell therapy for which research is ongoing: 

  1. Treatment for neurodegeneration
  2. Treatment for brain and spinal injury
  3. Treatment for heart disease
  4. Production of blood cells for treatment of blood related diseases
  5. Cochlear cell regrowth to treat hearing problems
  6. Treatment for blindness and vision impairment
  7. Treatment for pancreatic cancer through pancreatic beta cells generation
  8. Treatment for bone injuries Orthopaedics
  9. Improving wound healing
  10. HIV/AIDS treatment

Stem cell therapy has the potential to also help treat or better manage disease conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, COPD, Parkinson’s, Stroke and Spinal injury. 

How is stem cell therapy carried out?

Stem cells can be applied in treatment through intravenous administration, directly into the spinal canal and directly into particular areas such as the heart, knee, hips and hands. The transfer is usually done after the patient’s body has been prepared to receive the new cells. For cancer cases, typically this means that the patient would have undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill the diseased cells. The stem cell preparation is then delivered into the body through a central venous catheter. Basically, the stem cells are deposited directly into your blood in similar fashion to when you get a blood transfusion. The cells will flow through the blood to the bone marrow, where they settle and develop into new blood cells.

Another way to administer stem cells is to use stem cell coated sutures. This is particularly useful in muscle or tendon injuries. When the damaged area is sutured with threads coated with the stem cell preparation, this delivers the stem cells to the injured area where they are implanted and aid in the repair of the injured area. 

How effective is stem cell therapy?

Stem cell therapy has proven to be a good option for many patients, with a high success rate. Many clinical studies on stem cell therapy have concluded that it is an effective therapy. The high success rate can be attributed to the fact that the administration of stem cells is done in a precise fashion. This leaves very little room for errors or complications. Clinical studies have shown a success rate of 80% and above in some cases. However, stem cell therapy may not be appropriate for every patient. Usually, the patient’s disease condition and their overall health condition will play a key role in determining which therapies will be most appropriate. 

The takeaway

Stem cell therapy is a rapidly developing and minimally invasive therapy which shows great promise in alleviating many disease conditions with very little risk associated with it. Many patients who suffered from blood cancer such as leukaemia have gained a second chance at living a full and healthy life thanks to stem cell therapy. It is an area of great interest to many medical practitioners as its potential to improve the delivery of treatment and healthcare options to many patients that suffer from chronic illnesses, blood cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases is vast.

To find out if stem cell therapy is the right option for you, consult your primary healthcare provider. 

  4. Zhang, W., Sun T., Li, Y. et al. Application of stem cell in the repair of intervertebral disc degeneration. Stem cell Research Therapy. 13, 70(2022)


  4. Chen, Y., Huang, H., Li, G. et al. Dental-derived mesenchymal stem cell sheets: a prospective tissue engineering for regenerative medicine. Stem Cell Research Therapy 13, 38 (2022).

2 thoughts on “Stem cell therapy: How effective is it?”

  1. stem cell therapy cost

    An intense injury or problem will require a more involved treatment than a more mild case. The longer a problem has persisted, the more therapy it may take to correct it. The number of stem cells and stem cell injections required will impact the cost as well.

  2. stem cell therapy for back pain

    Stem cells are able to help rebuild joint cartilage, tendons, ligaments and muscle tissue, all of which help strengthen the back and relieve pain. Doctors are able to take stem cells from a patient and inject them into their back, allowing a patient’s body to heal itself.

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February 15, 2022