The future of stem cells is here and now. People should wake up to the realization that a large part of treatment for certain diseases — especially cardiovascular disease — is going to be predicated by current stem cell therapies. And in my opinion, we will surely see results in Dick Cheney’s lifetime.
I think everyone should consider, when possible, harvesting stem cells for future use.
There are a few different ways to do this.
Stem cells can be utilized from newborns of course, from the umbilical cord blood and tissue, which is typically medical waste, and from placental tissue which is also medical waste.
In adults, developing technology is making it easy to harvest stem cells, including bone marrow aspiration, where bone marrow is taken from the hip bone, and then filtered to leave only the purest of stem cells.
Typically, a local anesthesia is applied to the area and surface of the bone. Next, a special needle with a tube attached to it is inserted into the bone. The needle creates suction, and a small sample of bone marrow fluid flows into the tube before the needle is removed.
And now, you could also harvest cells through a similar technique by filtering them peripherally from a pint of blood, where stem cells similar to those in bone marrow are circulating in the blood stream.
All of these stem cells have the potential to either treat damaged tissue from a heart attack, or even develop into new tissue that regenerates organs we need that may begin to fail as we get older.
I spoke with my colleague, Dr. Andrew Pecora, who is the director of the cancer center at Hackensack University Medical Center and chief executive officer for Progenitor Cell Therapy, an innovative research company making huge strides in stem cell research.
He told me that we may see stem cell treatments that can help heart attack patients like Cheney in less than five years.
Pecora and his team use a bone marrow aspiration technique to harvest stem cells through a filtering system. Then the cells are put into the coronary artery of a heart attack patient with damaged tissue through a catheter. The stem cells naturally migrate to the most damaged tissue, and in trials, preserve and strengthen heart muscle.
This means that in the next five years, someone like Cheney who has suffered heart attacks could get stem cells injected into their heart just days later, and prevent another heart attack from happening.
Not only would this treatment save countless lives, but it would inevitably save millions of dollars for our health care system by stopping the recurrence of heart attacks.
Already regenerative medicine is creating human bladders, ears and mouse hearts. This is not future, this is happening now.
Despite having the best health care available Cheney still had degenerative heart problems, and these stem cell trials could change all that.
Sooner than later, similar cases could be treated with stem cells that may ultimately repair his heart and lead to less invasive treatments, like the ventricular assist device he uses today.