You may have heard the phrase and likely see it in your practice—patients today are living longer, but not necessarily better lives.
In fact, research estimates that 75% of today’s American population over the age of 65 is living with two or more chronic conditions. Although medical pioneers before us have innovated life-saving surgeries, drugs, and devices for those patients who otherwise would have died, a significant number of patients today are living with debilitating pain or loss of function even after receiving the available standard(s) of care.
The challenges of today’s healthcare model precipitate a discussion on how we move beyond a dependence on drugs and devices to fix issues the body natively understands how to repair on a cellular level.
The Cycle of Disease—Complications of the Pharmaceutical Model
The importance of a multi-faceted strategy in managing the cycle of disease becomes unmistakably clear when you understand first how early inflammation and abnormal immune response can lead to ischemia, tissue degeneration, and cell death.
“Despite the many complex factors we deal with in treating chronic, degenerative conditions, it is routine to resort to the pharmaceutical model: one chemical, molecule or cell type with a single dominant mechanism to address the primary factor in a disease,” says Moira T. Dolan, MD Internist and Patient Consultant at Okyanos Cell Therapy, an adult stem cell treatment facility located in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
“It’s not a sustainable methodology and doesn’t account for the inevitable co-morbidities, adverse drug effects, drug-drug interactions and other complications.”
Take for example a patient such as Patsy, who at age 72 was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). Following a regimen of medication, an implanted device, and invasive bypass surgery, she soon found herself facing heart transplant—a treacherous prospect at her age.
“You lose hope. The drugs aren’t helping, and you think—what am I going to do?” says Patsy, who sought the expertise of 12 different cardiologists, followed the standard cardiac intervention protocols and watched her condition steadily worsen. Having been told that her only option would be a full heart transplant and yet being too old by some transplant candidacy standards, she felt hopeless.
Patsy’s heart health continued to deteriorate until she had an ejection fraction* of 19% and even the most basic day-to-day tasks were becoming impossible. “You get to a point with a body where you push and push and run out of energy. That’s not really life to me,” she adds.
*Ejection Fraction refers to the percentage of blood which leaves the heart each time it pumps. It is a measure of how effectively your heart is functioning as a pump. EF numbers in healthy adults can range from 50-70%.
Patsy then contacted Okyanos to see if she was a candidate for adult stem cell therapy—a procedure which would isolate the reparative stem and regenerative cells from her own adipose (fat) tissue for re-infusion directly into and around areas of dead or damaged heart muscle. She opted to move forward with the minimally invasive procedure, which offers patients like Patsy and the millions of others with chronic, degenerative cardiac, orthopedic, neurologic or autoimmune conditions the hope of a more normal life. Today Patsy has resumed a full work schedule; her blood pressure has improved, and her ejection fraction is now at 32%.
The Proven Mechanisms of Stem Cells: Separating the Potential from the Panacea
Published research including clinical trials which focus on stem cells number more than 250,000. More specifically, recent research has honed in on the safety and efficacy of using adipose-derived stem and regenerative cells (ADRCs) to treat a variety of complex, unmet healthcare needs.
Dr. Eric Duckers, MD, PhD, FESC, FACC works to advance the science behind treatments done at Okyanos as the center’s Medical Advisory Council Chairman, having served as an investigator in multiple clinical trials observing the reparative mechanisms of ADRCs.
“Our observations in both clinical and research settings have repeatedly shown the ability of these cells to reverse scar, restore blood flow and address immune response on a systemic level as well as repair or replace damaged tissue in the heart and elsewhere in the body,” says Dr. Duckers. “These multi-potent cells are unique to each patient and open the door to treatment opportunities where patients currently have none.”
In truth, not all patients are like Patsy—rather, they may not have exhausted all their options or be facing death. Some are simply are not comfortable with the prospect of joint replacement or other invasive options which could compromise quality of the life which remains for them.
For example, Jake’s mobility was limited by severe knee pain as a result of osteoarthritis (OA) even after knee surgery to repair his meniscus. A lover of Olympic weightlifting, skiing and playing pickleball, at 72 Jake decided to take a proactive approach to preserving his active lifestyle by researching non-surgical alternatives to knee replacement surgery.
“I’m at the age where a lot of people get knee replacements and if I was going to continue to play I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.” Jake traveled to Okyanos for direct stem cell injection into his knee as well as a systemic infusion to target other underlying inflammatory factors associated with OA.
“After eight weeks I felt very comfortable walking around—I felt like I was walking on velvet. That to me was when I felt it was really working,” recalls Jake, who now is more than 1-year post-op and has resumed his full exercise regimen and active lifestyle.
“Adipose derived stem cells have a fascinating ability to differentiate into, bone and cartilage just like bone marrow-derived stem cells do,” comments Dr. Dolan. “The advantage of working with the patient’s body fat is that we are able to obtain a much greater number of cells in a higher concentration than can be obtained if we were working with bone marrow.”
“As advocates for patient health, the most important job we have as medical professionals is to responsibly advise what options truly exist for the condition at hand,” she adds. “While cell therapy is not appropriate for every condition, factually patients who come to us with multiple co-morbidities tend to do very well with the treatment because of capitalization on the multiple mechanisms of stem cells. Many of the patients I talk to are facing grave health concerns for which they have been told there are no more options. I am overjoyed when I can tell a patient, ‘This is an option for you.’ We are not in the business of accepting patients who we do not feel we can help, however, or for whom we cannot provide a scientific rationale that stem cell treatment could produce a benefit.”
The Future of Medicine, Today
What clinicians struggle with today is experienced by patients in an amplified way: A lack of options and certainly no shortage of healthcare needs, particularly for those with co-morbidities. Yet stem cell therapy takes advantage of the remarkably potent reservoir of untapped potential within the most unlikely of places: body fat.
Tapping into the body’s natural repair mechanisms, a new phase in the evolution of medicine is upon us, wherein patients have options not previously thought possible.