1. What is a stem cell?
A stem cell is a very primitive type of cell that has the capability of multiplying and reproducing itself as well being able to turn into other tissues. Most of the time, we discuss mesenchymal stem cells, which have the ability to turn into bone, cartilage, ligament/tendon, or fat tissue, depending upon their own local environment. In general, stem cells are the cells that help us to repair injured tissue, and the number of stem cells that we have in our body is very small. In addition, as we age, the number of stem cells that we have continues to decline over time. Because the number of stem cells that we have in our own body is very small, they must be carefully separated away from other tissues in our body when they are harvested. After they are separated away, they need to be grown in Petri dishes or other types of culture dishes to try to expand the number of cells present to be able to have a sufficient number of stem cells to be a viable treatment option.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carefully regulates the treatment of tissues that are obtained from our body and how they can be treated after they are harvested. The FDA requires that any biologic treatment be minimally manipulated. In general, other than carefully controlled and monitored studies, stem cells are not allowed to be used in our country, and if one wishes to obtain stem cell treatment, this must be done outside the United States, most commonly in countries like Chile, Spain and Germany.