Learning About Stem Cells and How to Activate Them

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There is an increasing awareness on Stem Cell Therapy these days due to its healing and rejuvenation potential. I first heard about this subject in 2004 when I was in Italy. A fellow heart surgery resident was conducting his thesis on the potential benefits of stem cells in ischemic heart disease. He was very passionate about this subject, but back then it seemed so out of reach for the average person. However, a lot of things have changed in more than a decade.

Nowadays some scientists suggest that it is irresponsible to deny this treatment for patients and if that is so, we better catch up with this topic!

What are stem cells and how many types are there?

According to Christian Drapeau, author of Cracking the Stem Cell Code: What’s New, What’s Real & What’s next in Stem Cell Science, stem cells are defined as cells with the unique capacity to self-replicate throughout the entire life of an organism and to differentiate into cells of various tissues. He says,

“Most cells of the body are specialized and play a well-defined role in the body. For example, brain cells respond to electrical signals from other brain cells through the release of neurotransmitters, cells of the retina are activated by light and pancreatic ß-cells produce insulin. These cells, called somatic cells, will never differentiate into other types of cells or even proliferate. By contrast, stem cells are primitive cells that remain undifferentiated until they receive a signal prompting them to become various types of specialized cells.

Generally speaking, there are two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells (ESC ) are cells extracted from the blastula, the very early embryo, while adult stem cells (ASC) are stem cells found in the body after birth. The term “adult stem cells” does not refer to characteristics associated with adulthood. Stem cells in the bone marrow of a newborn, for example, or even stem cells found in the umbilical cord are referred to as adult stem cells.”

Dr. Mercola just recently interviewed Kristin Comella, one of the leading researchers on this field. She explains the difference between these two types of stem cells in a very clear way:

“I want to contrast that to what are called embryonic stem cells,” Comella adds. “The products obtained from cord blood, from women who are having babies, are not embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are when you are first bringing the egg and sperm together. Three days after that, you can isolate what is called an inner cell mass. This inner cell mass can be used to then grow cells in culture, or that inner cell mass could eventually lead to the formation of a baby.

Those are embryonic stem cells, and those are pluripotential, meaning that they have the ability to form an entire being, versus adult stem cells or stem cells that are present in amniotic tissue, [which] are multipotential, which only have the ability to form subsets of tissue.

When you’re dealing with different diseases or damaged tissue or inflammation, mostly you want to repair tissue. If somebody has damage in their knee, they don’t necessarily need embryonic cells because they don’t need a baby in their knee. They need new cartilage in their knee.

This concept is very important because embryonic stem cells are associated with cancer development (teratomas) in patients as opposed to adult stem cells which don’t have this cancer risk. Moreover, the healing, rejuvenating and regenerating capacity comes from a person’s own adult stem cells which are extracted and isolated from their bone marrow and especially their fat cells. This is referred to as autologous stem cell donation.

A whole new world

Christian Drapeau compares the role of stem cells in our body as the discovery of a whole new system. He describes the healing potential of stem cells as a discovery that is rapidly changing the field of medicine. He says,

“A spontaneously fluorescent protein called green fluorescent protein (GFP) was isolated from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. Since GFP is a protein, it is possible to derive the DNA responsible for its production and to incorporate the GFP-gene in the nucleus of a stem cell. In such case, all the cells derived from the original fluorescent stem cell will be fluorescent. The discovery of GFP is of such importance that it was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

When scientist began injecting fluorescent stem cells in irradiated animals –a treatment that kills all stem cells in the body–, soon thereafter fluorescent tissue cells began to appear in various tissues. But more importantly, if any specific tissue was injured or damaged, the area of the injury would soon begin to display significant amounts of fluorescence. The injured area was being filled with new functional specialized cells of that tissue, but the cells were fluorescent, indicating that they came from the bone marrow. A process that until then had been virtually invisible suddenly became visible – a discovery that is changing the very way in which we view biological science!

Thanks to the discovery of GFP, adult stem cells from the bone marrow have been shown to have the ability to naturally become, in the body, cells of the liver, muscle, retina, kidney, pancreas, lung, skin and even the brain … putting an end to the dogma that we are born with a set number of brain cells and that the brain cannot regenerate. But the most fascinating observation emerging from these studies is that this process is natural. After an injury or a simple stress in an organ, bone marrow stem cells travel to that organ and play a crucial role in the process of tissue repair.”

It is most fascinating indeed. In those who respond to stem cell boosting protocols such as the use of certain herbs and nutrients, this is great news. I have tried one of these protocols involving l-leucine, blueberry extract, green tea extract, L-carnosine and glycine. Christian Drapeau reports excellent results with an aquatic botanical called Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) which has multiple benefits.

However, in some people this natural healing process of mobilizing the body’s own bone marrow stem cells might be compromised due to toxicity, disease progression, epigenetic defects, tissue damage, etc. Take for instance those who have fluoroquinolone antibiotic toxicity and who have suffered from ruptured tendons, retinal detachment and aortic aneurysms as a consequence of collagen destruction due to severe mitochondrial dysfunction and other induced factors. There is research suggesting that in the presence of these antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and other fluoroquinolone type of antibiotics), macrophages release enzymes that destroys collagen:

“If macrophages are incubated in the presence of fluoroquinolone drugs, they secrete enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases that have an interesting activity—they breakdown collagen molecules.”

Anybody who has suffered from a ruptured tendon in the context of severe mitochondrial dysfunction and fatigue has an idea of how difficult it is to heal and repair that kind of damage with diet and oral supplements alone.

Those with neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS; COPD; autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome; and all of those suffering from any of the multiple diseases where “hard-core” regeneration is needed might be interested in stem cells.

For those who are ill and have tried everything from dietary changes, detox, nutritional supplements and protocols, etc… without success, stem cell therapy may well be the best solution available to them. When the body’s own regeneration system system is compromised or unable to come back “online”, a little extra help might be needed.

Platelet-Rich Plasma

Platelet-Rich Plasma or PRP is among some of the most accessible stem cell stimulating therapies. PRP is isolated from a patient’s blood where several healing and repairing blood cell components are located. Once these isolated compounds are activated, they are injected back into the patient. If there is a ruptured meniscus or any other knee injury, the PRP could be injected in the knee. Or if there is a systemic disease, the PRP could be injected back into the patient through a standard intravenous infusion.

Dr. Alderman provides the following technical definition:

“Platelet rich plasma” is defined as “autologous blood with concentrations of platelets above baseline levels, which contains at least seven growth factors.” Cell ratios in normal blood contain only 6% platelets, however in PRP there is a concentration of 94% platelets.  Platelets contain a number of proteins, cytokines and other bioactive factors that initiate and regulate basic aspects of natural wound healing. Circulating platelets secrete growth factors, such as platelet-derived growth factor (stimulates cell replication, angiogenesis), vascular endothelial growth factor (angiogenesis), fibroblast growth factor (proliferation of myoblasts and angiogenesis), and insulin- like growth factor-1 (mediates growth and repair of skeletal muscle), among others. Enhanced healing is possible when platelet concentration is increased with PRP. Activated platelets “signal” to distant repair cells, including adult stem cells, to come to the injury site…”

Autologous adipose (fat)-derived stem/stromal cells

In a scientific paper, Dr. Alderman et al. describe the amazing potential of combining PRP and stem cell therapy derived from fat. This later is described as autologous adipose (fat)-derived stem/stromal cells (AD-SC). With the high levels of platelet-derived growth factors found in PRP, stem cell therapy provides enhanced healing to the body.

According to Kristin Comella,

“What we’ve discovered in more recent years is that a more plentiful source of stem cells is actually your fat tissue. [Body] fat can contain up to 500 times more cells than your bone marrow, as far as these mesenchymal type stem cells go.”

Alderman et al. describe some of the studies done and the implications of using fat-derived stem cells,

“ADSC’s have demonstrated pluripotent capabilities where they were shown to have the ability to differentiate into a variety of non-mesodermally derived tissues including:
hepatic,32 pancreatic, and keratocytic tissue and to be effective in skin anti-aging and tissue regeneration,33-35 cardiovascular muscle and vascular tissue repair,36 rheumatoid arthritis,37 diabetes,38 and other diseases.39-41

Historically, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC’s) have been studied from bone marrow aspiration. However, bone marrow possesses very few true MSC’s, and is gradually
being replaced with AD-SC’s as a primary tissue source.

Fat is a complex tissue that is not only easier to harvest,but offers markedly higher nucleated, undifferentiated stem cell counts42 than bone marrow.

Research has shown as much as 500 to 1000 times as many mesenchymal
and stromal vascular stem-like cells exist in adipose as compared to bone marrow.43-45

This additional quantity of adipose-derived cells helps to obviate the need for FDA
prohibited cell expansion often required for successful use of bone marrow.46 Further, harvesting and retrieval of autologous adipose tissue via modern lipoaspiration
methods is less invasive, procedurally easier, available in abundant amounts, and has lower morbidity than bone marrow harvest.”

For those not familiarized with surgical techniques, a lipoaspirate is basically like the liposuction done by plastic surgeons. There is never a shortage of fat in the body and the procedure is technically speaking very easy to perform.

Stem cell light activation

Another fascinating concept comes from the field of Light Therapy. Dr. Alexander Wunsch explains its basic concepts very clearly in The Health & Wellness Show: Seeing the Light with Dr. Alexander Wunsch.

The show is very rich in information, so it is worth reading or listening at least a couple of times. Basically light therapy is based on the principle that colors located in the longer wavelength of the light spectrum (red light) have a healing and anti-inflammatory effect. As Dr. Wunsch explains in the interview,

“First of all it’s not the far infrared, it’s the far red and the near infrared part where we have a good body of evidence that there is an effect on mitochondrial processes which has been investigated for decades… if you look at cells which have reduced mitochondrial activity you can stabilize the mitochondrial activity in terms of increasing the energy production, the ATP production, by shining light in the wavelength range between 600 and 850 nanometres onto these mitochondria. As you already mentioned, several diseases and natural processes like aging depend on mitochondrial function. So, if the mitochondrial function is somehow decreased or hampered then light in the far red and in the near infrared is able to stabilize, to help the mitochondria to perform much, much better. This is one aspect of the red and near infrared radiation.”

This red light therapy is also known as Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), Biostimulation (BIOS), Photonic Stimulation or simply Light Box Therapy.

Moreover, research suggests that photobiomodulation activates stem cells. For instance, “Lasers, stem cells, and COPD” explores the effects of LLLT on stem cells. On table 1, they summarize the technical aspects of the laser and its in vivo and in vitro stem cell effects. For example, a semiconductor laser (685 nm and 830 nm) at (2.5 J/cm2) decreased in vivo joint inflammation in induced arthritis. Then they list the referenced paper for each experiment. It seems that most frequencies were between 600-830 nm, as Dr. Wunsch describes above.

During my research, I stumbled upon several manufacturers for materials used during PRP. They also include photoactivation devices for stem cells. One of them is the AdiLight-2 system which basically is a light device where a PRP syringe is placed for 10 minutes before injecting it back to the patient. The information leaflet for this device claims,

“AdiStem has ongoing international research projects looking at the effects of different frequencies of monochromatic lights on various cells including mesenchyme stem cells and white blood cells. It has now found five frequencies (three are present in AdiLight-2) that can activate stem cells, in vitro, and two frequencies that inhibit them. AdiStem has also found similar frequencies to modulate pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine release from peripheral blood white blood cells. AdiStem is also exploring the direct effect of different low-level frequencies of light on endogenous cells (in vivo).”

I found more details about the frequencies they used in their patent:

The preferred embodiment would be to irradiate the stem cell population with a combination of laser diodes emitting light wavelengths and power ratings: 575-595 nm (5-20 mW) (yellow; this can also be considered to be an “orange” range of wavelengths as well), and 630-635 nm or 660-670 nm (10-100 mW) (red) and/or 510-540 nm (10-60 mW) (green) for 30-60 mins, where the sample is placed at a distance of 0-30 cm. More preferably the stem cells are irradiated with 595 nm (20 mW), 635 nm (60 mW) and 535 nm (60 mW), of monochromatic light for 30-60 mins.


What about stem cell sound activation?

In 2013, the following article was published:

Vibrating Mesenchymal Stem Cells Grow Bone

“Two UK academics, Professor Adam Curtis and Dr. Matthew Dalby, at the University of Glasgow, and an astrophysicist, Dr. Stuart Reid, at the University of the West of Scotland, have grown new bone using high frequency vibrations. Their research has shown that it is possible to grow new bone by “nanokicking” mesenchymal stem cells 1, 000 times per second. They believe their research holds promise for fundamentally changing the way doctors grow bone…

It is thought that vibrating the stem cells at this frequency encourages ‘communication’ between the cells and promotes bone formation… With astrophysicist, Dr. Reid added to their team, the doctors were able to measure the strength and frequency of the kicks using an incredibly precise measuring technique called laser interferometry which is used to detect tiny ripples in space-time caused by gravitational waves…

Dalby said: ‘This new observation provides a simple method of converting adult stem cells from the bone marrow into bone-making cells on a large scale without the use of cocktails of chemicals or recourse to challenging and complex engineering,’ He added, ‘Multidisciplinary research is tricky as researchers need to learn new scientific languages. However, this collaboration between cell biologists and astrophysicists—an unlikely pairing—has yielded new insight as to how bone stem cells work.’

Reid said, ‘Linking stem cell research with expertise from the field of gravitational wave astronomy, where we have developed instrumentation that can measure length changes almost a million times smaller than the diameter of a proton, has enabled this unique research field to emerge.’

Dr. Sylvie Coupaud, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, commented on the implications of the researchers’ work. ‘Vibration therapy could be applied to stimulate bone formation and maintain bone health as an alternative to traditional exercise. In the next phase of this bench-to-bedside research, parameters of vibration that have been shown by Dalby and Reid to successfully stimulate the development of bone cells in the lab can be scaled up for testing in patients to quantify their bone-stimulating effects in whole bones.’

What a concept! Researchers were making sound devices as early as 2011 to stimulate stem cells with positive results:

The effects of vibration loading on adipose stem cell number, viability and differentiation towards bone-forming cells

“We hypothesized that vibration loading would stimulate differentiation of human
adipose stem cells (hASCs) towards bone-forming cells and simultaneously inhibit differentiation towards fat tissue. We developed a vibration-loading device that produces 3g peak acceleration at frequencies of 50 and 100 Hz to cells cultured on well plates.”

Some people are really fascinated by the effect of sound on stem cells. See for instance this paper published just recently:

Cell melodies: when sound speaks to stem cells

Our cells produce acoustic vibrations that may inform us of their state of health
or disease. Music and voice, through the diffusive power of sound, permeate our body. Stem cells reside in all body tissues, orchestrating tissue repair throughout life. Can the sound of music and words affect human stem cells? This fascinating question has been the conductive theme of “Cell Melodies”, a world premier live experiment organized
November 7th-9th, 2016 in Bologna, Italy, by VID art|science, an international movement
of Artists and Scientists (www.vidartscience.org)…

Materials and Methods: On the scene, together with Milford Graves, a famous Jazz
drummer based in New York, and Alessandro Bergonzoni, a renowned theater actor, there were human adipose-derived stem cells on the stage of a microscope equipped with a multispectral imaging (MSI) system. MSI allows information collection and processing across the electromagnetic spectrum (light), and was used to detect the electromagnetic emission spectra produced by stem cells in response to the sound patterns generated by the Artists. MSI data were projected onto a screen and made visible to the Audience.

Results: Different MSI patterns were generated by stem cells in response to different sound spectra produced by the Musician, whose performance sinks roots in the ancestral rhythms and sounds from Africa and Latin America, using the heartbeat as the beginning of every possible pace. MSI also revealed that stem cell emission spectra remarkably changed during the Actor’s performance, varying upon sound emission patterning created by his dialog.

Conclusions: For the first time, we provided evidence that human stem cells are able to respond with different vibrational signatures to the sound generated by Artists in the form of music or voice dialog in live performances.

Future experiments are warranted to reveal whether the observed cellular responses may be associated with changes in gene/protein expression and signaling pathways, being of relevance for human stem cell homeostasis.

So let’s stay tuned to see how this fascinating field develops and what can it do for people.

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  1. Gina Blonda  July 25, 2017

    Hi there- I am a singer/ songwriter and am very interested in composing music to be used to help stem cell research and overall well being. Looking for guidance on how to start!


    • Gabriela Segura, MD  July 25, 2017

      That sounds great, Gina. The corresponding author for “Cell melodies: when sound speaks to stem cells” is Dr. Carlos Ventura from the University of Bologna.


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