The Role of Stem Cells in Wound Healing
Caring for wounds on the human body is a complex undertaking. The success of our efforts to speed the healing process hinges on the individual and their own abilities to regenerate, or heal, their skin or organs. Recently, the role of stem cells, otherwise known as regenerative medicine, in wound healing has begun to gain more attention, but does it really work?
Over the past 30-years, scientists have studied this phenomenon and have made some breakthroughs in improving the healing process with regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine is “the process of replacing or ‘regenerating’ human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function.” The field shows great promise for helping humans replace their own damaged tissue by stimulating the body to repair itself with stem cells.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells serve as the foundation for every tissue and organ in the human body. Think of stem cells as starter cells that evolve, divide, and renew themselves within the human body.
Over time, they can become specialized cells that power up your muscles, blood, and brain. They are a powerful building block with great potential to cure disease and even help the body rebuild itself after an injury or surgery.
Stem cells can be found in a variety of places:
- Somatic, or adult stem cells, can help generate specialized types of cells for the organ where they live. For example, hematopoietic, or blood-forming stem cells in human bone marrow can evolve into red or white blood cells and platelets, but they can’t form liver cells. The goal of these somatic stem cells are to replace cells damaged in injury, illness, or just from day-to-day living.
- Stromal, or mesenchyme stem cells, are found in our connective tissue, or the bone, cartilage, fat, and tendons in the human body. Scientists have harnessed these cells for more than 150 years, and more recently, doctors have used mesenchyme stem cells to heal wounds.
- Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are lab-created specialty cells that have been engineered to behave like embryonic stem cells. These cells are still under study by scientists and researchers, as they perfect this technique. Ultimately, they may be used as a source or tissues or cells for clinical use.
- Embryotic stem cells are very potent tools derived from human embryos at the earliest stages of development. These cells are derived from within the blastocyst, which forms about three to five days after an egg is fertilized by sperm.
All of these types of stem cells show great promise for the future, but how can we harness stem cells now to improve how patients heal?
How Do Stem Cells Help Wounds Heal?
Our skin is the largest organ in the body and responsible for keeping harmful microbes away from your organs. When the skin is damaged, it tries to heal itself, but this process can be interrupted by disease or even certain medications. This can lead to a chronic or non-healing wound that leaves you vulnerable to infections that can be severe and even life-threatening.
Stem cells are a type of regenerative therapy designed to help wounds heal by facilitating the body’s own natural processes. Stem cells work to knit together the underlying wound more quickly by stimulating tissue growth. Stem cells’ powerful healing properties work at the cellular level to form new tissue without scarring, with the same type of tissue that was destroyed.
At Freedom Health & Wellness we use two products that utilize the patient’s circulating stem cells, EpiFix® grafts and ActiGraft®. An EpiFix® graft is a product derived from human placenta tissue. This is used for the treatment of acute and chronic wounds to provide a barrier, modulate inflammation, enhance healing and reduce scar tissue formation. An ActiGraft® is a product that uses the patient’s plasma to activate circulating stem cells. They are not approved for all wounds but are finding increasing indications in the wound care arena.