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Stem Cell Terminology: 5 Terms for the Uninitiated

Imagine speaking to your doctor about a chronic pain condition you have been living with for years. He mentions the potential of stem cell therapy to relieve your pain and possibly promote some level of healing. Would you understand a word he was saying? A lot of people would not, thanks to a lack of education and information about regenerative medicine.

No single blog post can completely inform patients of everything they need to know about PRP and stem cell procedures. Still, understanding a few basic terms can go a long way toward facilitating fruitful discussions between patients and their doctors. To that end, below are five terms for the uninitiated. They are terms that the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute says are routinely brought up during discussions of stem cell therapy.

1. Stem Cell

The first and most obvious term is ‘stem cell’. A stem cell is a very specific kind of cell found in human tissue. It is a cell that can differentiate into various kinds of tissue depending on what the body needs at any given time. Understand that there are distinct kinds of stem cells. Two examples are pluripotent and multipotent stem cells.

A pluripotent stem cell can differentiate into any kind of tissue within the five germ layers. A multipotent stem cell can only differentiate into tissues of the same germ layer. This is important to understand in that all of the stem cell therapies that can currently be utilized under FDA regulations involve multipotent cells.

2. Growth Factors

Also known as cytokines, growth factors are substances released by cells to affect healing and immune response. They are generally protein molecules made naturally by the body to regulate how cells divide and survive. Growth factors are believed to be the main mechanism by which PRP and stem cell injections encourage healing.

3. Autologous Cells

A doctor advising you on stem cell therapy for chronic pain would likely be advising you on an autologous procedure. It is a procedure that utilizes autologous cells, which is to say cells that you provide. For your particular procedure, the doctor would extract cells through either a blood draw or by removing a bit of fat tissue. The drawn material would be spun in a centrifuge to isolate the stem cells prior to injection.

4. Allogeneic Cells

Where autologous cells are provided by the patient being treated, allogeneic cells come from a donor. A bone marrow transplant for treating leukemia is an example of a procedure that relies on allogeneic cells. Donors with matching blood types provide the marrow that is processed in the lab and then given to the patient.

5. Regenerative Medicine

The last term is ‘regenerative medicine’. This is a very broad term that goes beyond stem cell injections for treating chronic pain. As a science, regenerative medicine is a form of medicine based in the knowledge that the human body has the ability to heal itself in most cases.

Regenerative medicine takes its name from the idea of regenerating lost or damaged tissue. In regard to your hypothetical stem cell procedure for chronic pain, the goal would be to utilize stem cell injections to encourage your body to replace the tissue that, through loss or damage, is the primary source of your pain.

These five terms should give you a basic understanding of what your doctor is talking about should you ever find yourself discussing stem cell therapy. If you want to know more, there is plenty of information available online. Just be sure to seek out scientific resources rather than news articles.

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