Dr. Joel Singer: Stem Cell Therapy May Reverse the Aging Process

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Most of us would love to stop the march of father time and scientists are now testing stem cell treatments for aging that may be able to do just that. Human clinical trials are ongoing and the results so far are positive. These trials are tackling all facets of aging and age related diseases including frailty due to aging, cardiac degeneration, strokes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. All of these studies are preliminary, but the results that scientists have witnessed so far have been remarkable.

Cardiac Stem Cell Healing

One of the most common problems we face as we age is a decline in our heart health. The treatments available to us now involve invasive techniques, and in many cases open heart surgery. These operations are risky propositions no matter how experienced the surgeon is. That’s why scientists and medical professionals are so excited about the promising results so far in treating cardiac problems with stem cell therapy.

At the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center tests are being conducted that infuse young cardiac stem cells in rats into aging adult rats. The tests have yielded positive results that suggest reversing cardiac degeneration in the elderly is possible. Of course, these are not human trials, so caution is warranted, but it’s a promising starting point. Other age related studies have included human trials and treatments.

Stroke Patients Recover

Positive results have also been observed while treating stroke patients with stem cell therapy.  Strokes aren’t exclusively an age related illness, but they are most common in the elderly. They’re often caused by plaque build-up in the arteries that blocks blood flow to the brain and prevents it from getting enough oxygen to continue normal function. The results of a stroke can be devastating and can leave the patient unable to speak properly or walk.

In a human clinical trial, led by Dr. Gary Steinburg a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, researchers injected adult stem cells into the brains of patients that had suffered a stroke. This was a small study, but all recipients saw at least some motor function restored. These patients were able to walk again and they’re still able to do so more than 2 years after their treatments. This suggests that stem cell treatments could be our best hope yet to reverse the effects of a stroke.

Treating Alzheimer’s

A Japanese study is even taking on one of the world’s most debilitating diseases. The research is taking place at Kyoto University and may provide real hope for Alzheimer’s patients. Using a combination of drugs and stem cell therapy doctors are hopeful that they can prevent the onset of the disease, although they caution their results are preliminary.

At Park Avenue Stem Cell Therapy Center in New York City they are also investigating the effectiveness of using a technique called stromal vascular fraction (SVF) to treat a range of degenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s. This method, imported from Asia, uses some of the patient’s own fat cells (adipose) to extract stem cells that are then injected back into the patient. If these methods prove effective, doctors may be able to treat Alzheimer’s with day surgery in the near future.

Age Related Frailty

As promising as all of these research studies are, none of them address the problem of the age related frailty we deal with as we get older. The results of two separate recent studies released in The Journals of Gerontology show potential to do exactly that. Patients in their 80’s and 90’s received infusions of stem cells in a double blind study. The majority of patients showed significant improvement in brain function, heart health, and overall fitness levels.

As with all other stem cell research it’s still too early to say for sure that such treatments will help all patients, but as further studies are conducted methods are likely to improve. If the results so far are any indication, there’s real reason for optimism.  The probability of full FDA approval being granted for age related stem cell therapy in the next 5 to 10 years is a real possibility.

Blood Stem Cells

Another promising study is exploring the idea of using blood stem cells to restore the health of the blood in older individuals. This study hasn’t reached the point of human trials yet, but they’ve had success in testing the procedure in mice.

As we age our hematopoietic stem cells deteriorate and this makes it harder for the body to fight of diseases such as cancer. A study at Weill Cornell Medicine has successfully replaced these cells in older mice with donor cells from young mice. The procedure doesn’t harm the young mice, but it does return the blood in older mice to a healthy state making then better able to fight off diseases.

Perhaps Aging Can Be Reversed

It remains to be seen whether we can extend the length of human life through stem cell therapy. There does seem to be strong evidence that we can reverse some of the effects of age related disease and degeneration though. The next few years will be critical in determining just how far we’ve really come.

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Dr. Joel Singer

Dr. Joel Singer is a board certified plastic surgeon and the medical director at Park Avenue Stem Cell in New York, New York. He is leading researcher in stem cell treatments and treatment for chronic conditions which do not respond to traditional medical treatments. Park Avenue Stem Cell is one of the first clinics in New York City to use stem cell treatments on chronic pain.
Dr. Singer has 30 years of medical experience focused on plastic surgery. Dr. Singer studied chemistry and biology at Queens College, The City University of New York. He earned his Doctor of Medicine from Yale School of Medicine and completed residencies at Yale New Haven Medical Center and Rhode Island Brown University Hospital. He later earned an M.B.A from George Washington School of Business.