The aging process has long since baffled scientists. The changes to our physique, mental capacity, and overall energy levels are hurdles which science has tried to overcome for centuries. While there may never be a clear answer to these challenges, new discoveries in stem cell sciences have facilitated the first steps in overcoming and slowing the aging process.
Though the aging process is difficult to study – it looks different in every person and even differs within the different parts of the body in a single person – one thing is certain, aging is related to the overall decline in our body’s natural regenerative abilities. At some point our bodies simply can’t repair a broken muscle and new tissues we do manage to create come out with small mutations that make them imperfect.
One of the ultimate goals of health sciences has always been to slow these aging processes down and new discoveries in the field of regenerative medicine have shown promise to do just that.
Promoting Healthy Tissue Production
As we age, our health declines. Bones become brittle, muscles shrink and dwindle, soft tissues wear away and stop replicating, and our organs begin to fail. But what if there was a way to help promote our body’s natural healing processes and stave off this tissue degeneration slowly? Induced pluripotent stem cell (IPSC) treatments aim to do just that.
Just over 10 years ago, Japanese biologists discovered a way to induce a stem-cell like state in various healthy adult tissues. The most viable of these tissues have been found to be bone marrow and fat (adipose) tissue.
By harvesting these from a patient, processing them, and reinjecting them with a mix of growth factors, doctors can revitalize and amplify the body’s natural healing processes, virtually counteracting the aging process.
These new stem cells do away with the ethical ambiguity of their embryonic counterparts to create treatments for a wide range of ailments, from autoimmune diseases to hair loss and acute muscle damage.
Though these treatments are still in their infancy, they show much promise in the coming years to help mitigate the issues which arise with aging.
What are IPSCs?
Induced pluripotent stem cells are simply cells derived from healthy adult tissues which have been processed in a way which brings them back to their infantile state. From here, these cells are much more malleable, meaning that under the right conditions, they can become any other cell in the human body.
Muscle, cartilage, bone, organ, and other tissues can now be derived from simple outpatient procedures given enough time. Not only do these cells promise to deliver ethical human tissues in the near future, but they’re already being use in a wide variety of treatments today.
How are IPSCs used in Regenerative Medicine?
Since their discovery, IPSCs have been used successfully to treat autoimmune diseases, some types of cancers, blindness, baldness, skin erosion, joint pain, and muscle degradation. These treatments have also been linked to boosting the body’s natural healing processes and have been used to decrease recovery periods after major surgery or acute injury.
Regenerative therapy clinics around the US have used IPSC injections to help professional athletes recover after sustaining injury, everyday people reach their functional goals despite suffering degenerative illnesses, and may hold the key to treating a wide variety of age related problems.
Research is being conducted right now in order to treat several age-related issues such as:
- Skin erosion
- Cartilage depletion
- Certain types of blood disorders
- Symptoms of arthritis and osteoarthritis
- Certain types of cancers and autoimmune illnesses
- Spinal issues
What is the Outlook for Regenerative Therapies in the US?
While stem cell therapies are being heralded by the world over (Japan and Germany are at the forefront of the movement), in the US these treatments are still in the beginning processes of approval.
The FDA will not grant blanket approval for all types of stem cell treatments but is taking in clinical data and slowly approving treatments on a case by case basis. While other countries have approved stem cell treatments for quicker recovery after surgery and certain joint issues, in the US, the FDA has forestalled approval due to lack of US clinical data.
As a result, clinics throughout the US have pushed back asking for regulations more in-tune with the current world climate. In the past year, the FDA has approved a form of data culling whereby multiple clinics can publish their research together by combining their clinical findings. This has opened up a new, much less averse avenue for stem cell clinics to help provide these much needed therapies to patients.
In the coming years it is safe to say that new clinical findings will help push stem cell therapies to the forefront in the fight against age-related issues. For now, clinics in the US are operating under a general gray area, though most of these clinics offer treatments which have been proven by clinical data from around the world.