How Do Stem Cells Function?
Stem cells have the capacity to migrate to injured tissues, a phenomenon called homing. This occurs by injury/disease signals that are released from the distressed cells/tissue. Once stem cells are delivered to a site of injury or deployed into the blood stream they go to these distressed signals and dock on adjacent cells to commence performing their job.
- Serve as a cell replacement where they change into the needed cell type such as a muscle cell. This is ideal for traumatic injuries and orthopedic indications.
- They do not express specific HLAs which help them avoid the immune system. In fact, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) do this so well that they are in clinical studies for graft vs host disease and have been approved for pediatric graft vs host disease in Canada.
- They dock on an adjacent cell and release proteins called growth factors, cytokines and chemokines. These factors help control many aspects systemically.
- Control the immune system and regulate inflammation which is a key mediator of diseases of aging and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
- Help to increase new blood vessel formation which aids in adding vasculature so that tissues can receive proper blood flow and the correct nutrients needed to heal such is the case in stroke, peripheral artery disease and heart disease.
- Provide trophic support for surrounding tissues and help host endogenous repair. This works great when used for orthopedics as it causes signals to be released which may now activate your own stem cells to repair a knee for instance. In case of diabetes, it may help any remaining beta cells to reproduce or function optimally.
As research continues, the field of regenerative medicine and stem cells evolves into the greatest hope for those suffering from degenerative disease and looking for methods to improve their quality of life.