Stem cell therapy is a rapidly evolving and exciting area of regenerative medicine that has shown considerable promise in treating many degenerative conditions. Additionally, we use various eclectic modalities of complementary and alternative medicine including--but not limited to-- oral and IV nutrition, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), herbal extracts, hormones, and acupuncture to limit diseases and aid the body in repairing itself. We leave no stones unturned in obtaining the best possible results.
3. What is a stem cell?
Stem cells are cells in the body that have a remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types and tissues. In many tissues, stem cells serve as a type of internal repair system, dividing without limit to replenish and repair other cells in the body. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
There are two important characteristics that differentiate stem cells from other types of cells in the body. First, they are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity. Second, under certain physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues. In other organs, however, such as the pancreas and the heart, stem cells only divide under special conditions.
4. What diseases and conditions can be
Stem cells can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases. Please see Stem Cell Treatments for a list of the conditions we treat. If you suffer from a condition not listed, please contact us and have one of our specialists evaluate and discuss whether or not you may be a potential candidate for stem cell therapy.
5. Is our procedure FDA-approved?
No. The FDA has guidelines about treatment and manipulation of a patient's own tissues. Our practice existed in the United States under FDA guidelines, but have found that the procedure and guidelines approved by the FDA extremely limit stem cell treatments and their efficacy. Therefore, we relocated to Guatemala in order to have the flexibility to give treatments that are not only more effective, but safe and very ethical.
6. Does SCHI use any embryonic stem cells?
No. Only adult mesenchymal stem cells from the patient's own body are used. Mesenchymal stem cells are capable of forming bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, ligaments, blood vessels, and certain organs. Embryonic stem cells are associated with ethical considerations and limitations, as well as potential risks.
7. How are stem cells collected?
There are several methods to collect stem cells. We collect each patient's fat tissue by using a mini-liposuction technique, which requires very light local anesthesia. Depending on the patient, the doctor will determine the most appropriate location to perform the minor incision(s) for the required adipose tissue collection.
Typically, the lower abdomen or the flanks (also known as "the love handle" area) is used to collect the fat tissue. The procedure generally takes about an hour. The process is minimally invasive and typically not painful. Pain medication may be prescribed for those who need it, but most patients will not require any medication and will be up and about very soon after the fat collection.
8. Why does SCHI prefer to use stem cells from fat versus stem cells from bone marrow?
Extracting stem cells from bone marrow tends to be a more painful process and yields approximately 5,000 – 60,000 cells that are then cultured over several days to perhaps a few million cells prior to implantation. Recent advances in stem cell science have made it possible to obtain high numbers of very excellent quality multi-potent (able to form numerous other tissues) cells from a patient’s own fat. There are 500 times more mesenchymal stem cells in 1 gram of fat than there are in 1 gram of bone marrow. For this reason, doctors at SCHI extract adult stem cells from fat tissue. The process is more timely, less painful, and more effective. These adipose derived stem cells can form many different types of cells including bone, cartilage, tendon (connective tissue), muscle, blood vessels, nerve tissue and others.
9. Can stem cells cause cancer?
Adult mesenchymal stem cells are not known to cause cancer. However, there are reports of embryonic stem cells creating tumors. These tumors are known as teratomas and are a rare but possible occurrence with the use of embryonic stem cells. At SCHI, we do NOT use embryonic stem cells for any of our treatments, nor do we use anything biological taken from any other source than the patient's own body.
10. What is PRP?
PRP is an abbreviation for platelet-rich plasma. Platelet-rich plasma is blood plasma that has been enriched with the patient's own platelets. First, blood is drawn from your own body and is spun down in a centrifuge, separating the PRP from the red blood cells. The platelets are then activated, which induces the release of different natural growth factors. PRP has been investigated and used as a clinical tool for different medical treatments, including nerve injury, tendinitis, osteoarthritis, cardiac muscle injury, bone repair and regeneration, plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery, and oral surgery. We typically mix PRP with stem cell treatments to increase the efficacy of the treatment using your own body's cells.
11. How are the stem cells administered?
Considering the ailment, physical condition, and/or age of the patient, we at SCHI may implant the stem cells using a combination of the following implantation methods:
a) Intravenous (IV)
Intravenous application is one of the safest and simplest methods to administer stem cells throughout the body. Anesthesia is not required, but can be administered if necessary depending on the patient. For neurological conditions, an IV administration of stem cells may also include an IV of a natural sugar called mannitol to allow stem cells to enter the central nervous system (CNS, that is the brain and spinal column). The administration of an IV application normally takes about 30 minutes.
b) Intrathecal (Lumbar Puncture)
Commonly, intrathecal administration is ideal for most neurological conditions such as autism and spinal cord injury. With a lumbar puncture, stem cells are injected directly into the spinal canal through the lower vertebrae under local anesthesia and performed by a licensed and experienced anesthesiologist. Lumbar punctures are used for neurological conditions because the stem cells are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid which bypasses the blood-brain barrier. This enables the cells to reach the spinal cord and the brain. This procedure normally takes about 30 minutes.
c) Intranasal Aspiration (spray into the nose)
A combination of IV, intrathecal, and intranasal methods are typically used and ideal for patients with neurological disorders. With the intranasal method of stem cell administration, stem cells are administered through the nose using an aspirator nozzle to spray the cells into the nose. The nasal cavity has two primary functions, olfaction (sense of smell) and warming, humidifying and filtering air we breath. Inside the nasal cavities are turbinates, which are highly vascular and convoluted passageways lined with a warm, moist mucosal layer. These highly vascular turbinates allow for rapid absorption into the bloodstream because the capillaries within the turbinates are specifically designed to allow the rapid shift of fluids across capillary membranes. Additionally, the olfactory tissues relay sense of smell signals directly to the central nervous system. Olfactory mucosa is on the superior aspect of the nasal cavity and actually extends through the skulls cribriform plate and into the cranial cavity, therefore passing the blood brain barrier, which is what is believed to aid in the reparation of cells for patients with neurological disorders or ailments.
d) Intra-articular Injection (into the joint)
Intra-articular injections are commonly used for cartilage repair in arthritis (degenerative and rheumatoid) patients as well as those patients looking to repair damaged ligaments and tendons, typically due to sport or some sort of physical injury. The stem cells are injected directly into the affected joint by a licensed physician and is a safe and very effective procedure that may require local anesthesia.
12. What does the cost of the procedure include?
Because of recent innovations in technology and our office being located in Guatemala, SCHI is able to provide state-of-the-art and the most advanced outpatient stem cell treatment at a fraction of the cost of that is seen in many overseas and US clinics. The fee covers fat cell harvesting, stem cell isolation and preparation with PRP, and stem cell deployment, pre- and post-treatment nutritional cocktails (IV and oral) and PRP (in follow-up, if necessary), travel, accommodations, a tour of your choice, and all transfers for you and a travel companion. Fees very depending on the condition, treatment, duration of treatment, and other factors (for instance, whether hospital facilities would be required (as with neurological conditions where an anaesthesiologist would be required for Intrathecal Injections into the spinal column). Fees range from $4900 USD to $18000 USD.
13. Can I expect to see major improvements after stem cell treatments?
We have found different degrees of varying success depending on the type of conditions treated. Results may be instant or take several weeks or months to notice a physical difference. For instance, if the purpose of the treatment is to regenerate the cartilage in a joint, one may experience a reduction in pain in a very short time as opposed to a significance difference in an x-ray. Some patients experience significant and dramatic improvement while others may experience little or no change.
14. Where can I get more information of stem cell treatments?
A reliable resource is the International Cellular Medicine Society (ICMS).
15. How many injections are required for success?
Most patients, especially those with orthopedic conditions, require only one deployment. Certain types of degenerative conditions, particularly auto-immune disease, may respond best to a series of stem cell deployments. The number and necessity of any additional treatments would be decided on a case by case basis. Financial consideration is given in these instances.
16. What types of specialties are represented at SCHI?
SCHI specializes in adipose tissue-derived autologous stem cell isolation, expansion, and differentiation. These processes can be applied to most disease conditions and anti-aging applications and therefore customized, respectively. We have a world-class team of specialists that provide treatment for applications such as that for eyes, intrathecal (lumbar puncture), and vertebral discs.
17. How does your procedure differ from an FDA-approved procedure?
There is no so-called FDA-approved procedure for stem cell therapy. However in the USA, there are FDA guidelines for what can and cannot be done with stem cells as the practice of medicine. First, the stem cells must be solely autologous (from the patient). Second, the stem cells must undergo less than minimal manipulation (hence, the stem cells can only be isolated, and cannot be expanded (multiplied) or differentiated to target a specific tissue). Third, the treatment must take place within the same treatment session (on the same day of stem cell harvesting).
At SCHI, we successfully isolate, expand, and manipulate the stem cells to target a specific tissue, depending on the condition.
18. How do adult stem cells heal the body?
Adult stem cells have the inherent ability to regenerate damaged tissue. The stem cells are differentiated to display specific receptors for a specific tissue. Furthermore, damaged tissue secretes a class of substances called cytokines. These chemical messengers are specific for the particular damaged tissue and therefore indicate to the stem cells where the damage is located and where regeneration is required.
19. Does SCHI use stem cells from any other animal source or person?
Absolutely not. At SCHI, we believe in the body’s ability to heal itself. We do not use any other source of stem cells or biological agents other than that from the patient her/himself. That is, autologous (from self). This minimizes the risk of infections, contaminations, rejection, and the use of damaging immunosuppressive drugs.
20. Some stem cell treatment centers make extraordinary claims about their success in the treatment of various dieases and conditions. Why doesn’t SCHI?
SCHI is a pioneer of expanded and differentiated adipose-derived autologous mesenchymal stem cell treatment in Central America and has the first and only licensed and certified by the International Consortium for Cell Therapy and Immunotherapy (ICCTI) to perform these processes and procedures. We have well-seasoned and experienced North American staff whom have had great success with autologous stem cell therapy. And although we have seen improvements in most of our patients in varying degrees, we make no promises or provide false hope. We will provide you with realistic expectations and do our utmost for the most effective treatment.
21. Are any biological agents added to the stem cells such as medications or mixtures containing PRP?
The only biological agent we combine with the stem cells is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) from the patient's own blood which contains growth factors which enhance the treatment for efficacy. In some cases, natural cross-linked hyaluronic acid, similar to that which is used as joint and facial fillers, is used as a matrix or scaffold for joint and skin rejuvenation.
22. How long does it take to see improvement?
The time frame for improvement varies from patient-to-patient and from condition to condition. We have seen patients improving within days, to weeks, to months. We cannot predict when you will respond to your particular treatment, nor do we make any false guarantees.
23. Is everyone a candidate for stem cell treatment?
Not everyone is a candidate for adult mesenchymal stem cell therapies. Various considerations are made in order to deduce candidacy and the patient must undergo a rigorous approval process.
24. How do you determine if a patient is eligible for treatment?
Various factors are considered in determining stem cell treatment eligibility. The patient’s disease condition, degree of debilitation, age, medications, unrelated ailments, are among those. Each prospective patient is individually assessed and a complimentary personal one-on-one consultation with the treating physician is conducted prior to approval.
25. What are some diseases that SCHI is not treating at this time?
Treatments at SCHI have resulted in varying degrees of improvement in symptoms in severely debilitating diseases such as ALS, however results have been temporary in some cases.