Everything you’ve always wanted to know about stem cell therapy
CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2013 - 12:00am

Dr. Aivee Aguilar-Teo didn’t have to look far to see how effective Autologous Fat Stem Cell Repair (FSCR) therapy really is. Her father, Nene Aguilar, had been suffering for more than a dozen years from acute pain due to osteoarthritis. He couldn’t walk without assistance, he had trouble getting up, and he had, in fact, forgotten how it was to be pain-free. 

“He wanted to do knee replacement surgery because he couldn’t bear the pain any longer,” Aivee says. “Then last year, we did Autologous Fat Stem Cell Repair therapy and six months later, we did another one. Now, he’s walking on his own but more importantly, his pain went from a scale of 10 to 0 or 2. My father said, ‘Now I understand how it feels to be normal.’”

On Monday, Dr. Aivee Teo and her husband Dr. Z. Teo launched a separate medical unit called StemCare Institute, Center for Pain and Regenerative Medicine, at the Conservatory of Peninsula Manila. It was an event attended by showbiz personalities and stem cell patients who have undergone stem cell therapy.

During the launch, Drs. Z and Aivee also announced StemCare Institute’s partnership with the California Stemcell Treatment Center, a network of stem cell doctors and centers around the world that share data — research and case studies — with each other. Its medical director, Dr. Mark Berman, talked about how far stem cell therapy has advanced from its initial use in orthopedic therapy.

Like Dr. Aivee, Dr. Berman also had a close family member as his second patient — his wife, who was suffering from hip pain due to years of running marathons and daily eight-mile training. And again, like Aivee’s father, she was considering surgery before stem cell therapy made it unnecessary.  

Today, the applications of FSCR are numerous — surprising doctors every step of the way in the past decade.

At the Teos’ treatment center alone, stem cell therapy — wherein fat is extracted or harvested from the patient’s own body and then injected back after being processed to isolate stem cells — has been used to treat sports injuries, skin diseases, joint pain, autism, degenerative conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue and loss of energy, among others. Treatments can go from injections to the face (for better skin texture and elasticity), to the joints and knees (to relieve pain) or wherever it is needed. Or it can be done intravenously.  

It has even been used to treat erectile dysfunction, according to Dr. Berman.

Karen Davila, who moderated the event, tells of one of the more surprising cases that stem cell is used for: to help children with autism. Her son David received Karen’s fat stem cell (extracted from her thigh) and Karen says the effect was immediate. “Just from a few days to a week, my family and his therapist noticed that he was speaking more, the question-and-answer was much faster, there was more eye contact, he was more confident and aware. I can only attribute that to stem cell therapy, which regenerates cells that are already sick or not functioning well. It was the perfect treatment to cap all the medical treatments he was doing.”

To rugby player and Volcanoes team captain Harry Morris, stem cell therapy’s ability to make injuries heal faster is crucial. “It means faster rehabilitation,” he says. Sometimes, his injury sidelines him for weeks. “I stay off my feet for two weeks and no running for six weeks. With stem cell therapy, I was able to walk after one week. Or I could be back in training after one week for small injuries like microscopic tears and minor damage to ligaments. You get the stem cell injected right where you need it.” 

Gretchen Barretto reveals that her partner, businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco, has greatly benefitted from stem cell therapy.  “He has done it twice on his whole body for general well-being.”

Columnist Mons Romulo has also had the procedure done, both for aesthetic reasons and pain relief.  One morning, she says, several days after she underwent the procedure, she was bent over the sink brushing her teeth and, with great joy, noticed that something was missing —  the pain in her lower back.

Hairstylist Jing Monis has also used stem cell to relieve his lower back pain.

Actress Marjorie Barretto and businesswoman Alice Eduardo have had stem cell therapy for general well-being. Alice says that “before the procedure I was wasn’t feeling well all the time; after the procedure, I was more active and had the energy to go to work.”

Marjorie says, “Before, when I would wake up I couldn’t open my hand, so they injected a little bit in my hand apart from my joints, knees, and face. I felt stronger, I was able to work out for a whole hour after that. It helped my skin, my face appeared smaller, thinner.”

For designer Inno Sotto, who jokes that he is 800 years old, stem cell therapy is mostly “preventive.” 

For businesswoman Small Laude, stem cell therapy helped her achieve better skin, or what they call “the stem cell glow,” and more energy.

Since Autologous Fat Stem Cell Repair therapy is relatively new, it is also very expensive, with treatments starting at the hundreds of thousands, but Dr. Z Teo says as technology advances and the machine converting fat into stem cell becomes more efficient, it may be more affordable to a broader market.

Stem cell therapy may be the most promising, almost-cure-all procedure, but it is also one of most misunderstood. Here, Dr.  Aivee Teo and Dr. Mark Berman explain what could very well be humanity’s hope for an almost eternal life — or at least an eternal supply of one’s own stem cells.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: In the simplest terms, what is a stem cell and how is it harvested from fat?

DR. AIVEE TEO: We take out the fat from the patient, like from her thighs or hips, and instead of throwing it away, we put it in a machine that isolates the stem cell from the grease and that’s what we inject back into the patient. We’re not injecting any foreign product, but stem cell from your own body. As we get older, our cells deteriorate, they become damaged and we lose cells. A stem cell is a progenitor cell, it stimulates your body.

The cells are still functioning?

Not at a hundred percent as you get older. When you reach 50, you start experiencing the signs of aging, from your skin to your memory and body function, like your blood pressure cannot be controlled anymore by your body because your body organs do not function as well. Even your knees, you experience pain and they begin to deteriorate.

Stem cell stimulates your body and this can help in certain medical conditions like autoimmune conditions. It’s good for both regenerative medicine as well as cosmetic. You look younger and it helps repair the organs in your body.

How do you take the stem cell out and how do you put it back in?

It can be a simple fat extraction, which is done with local anesthesia, if it’s for stem cell therapy alone. Or some patients do a lipo procedure and instead of throwing away the fat, we process it in the fully automated stem cell machine at our center, and inject it back into the patient. You can inject it on the face, or the scalp to stimulate hair growth, or the joints.

That’s interesting because for both knee pain from arthritis and hair loss, some people use steroids.

Yes, but you have to remember that steroids have side effects and not good for the long term. With stem cell, you’re using your own body.

Can a person use another person’s stem cells?

Technically, yes, you can. But you have to make sure there is a proper cross-matching and tissue typing between the two patients, and preferably it should be a first-degree relative like a child or brother or sister. Like Karen Davila, who gave her stem cells to her son David, who has autism. We don’t want to say it’s a cure — we don’t know — but there’s a lot of improvement and it helps the other treatments as well.

What kind of patients do you have?

People with a lot of joint or knee problems, or sport injuries, or from simple wear and tear, people in their 20s to 40s. In the face, it helps improve the texture of the skin and gives them what is called “the stem cell glow” because it improves circulation .

You inject up to what level of the skin?

We inject superficially on the entire face and also you can do it through IV.

How different is your institute from others offering, say, sheep stem cell.

Sheep stem cell is not allowed in the Philippines. The DOH recommends only four sources of stem cell: from your fat, your own bone marrow, your umbilicus, and your blood. For umbilicus, they get the stem cell from the umbilical cord and is stored and banked in Singapore, and you can use it when you want to, except there’s a limit to the number of years it can be stored.

How exactly does stem cell help autism?

You know, we still don’t know what causes autism. It could be autoimmune, we don’t know, but somehow children with autism have damaged cells and stem cell therapy helps repair them and helps kids in terms of their concentration, their verbal output.  They become more focused and improve a lot with their skills.

What about those who do it simply for aesthetic purposes?

A lot of our patients notice they look younger, feel younger, and their metabolism is faster. Somehow, they lose some weight, their memory improves. We had a patient who, after the procedure, could again swim and work longer hours because he doesn’t get tired easily.

Does it work well on sagging skin?

Yes, because collagen is made up of cells as well, so the procedure helps build more collagen, which causes the skin to be more elastic and tight. There is no downtime, even with multiple small injections in the face.

How old is stem cell technology?

DR. MARK BERMAN: It’s been around a long time. Here’s the original story the best I know. During the Cold War, the Russians wanted to figure out how they could cure radiation poisoning so if the US bombed Russia and they had a radiation fallout, they would know how to cure that.  They locked a bunch of scientists in a laboratory and basically said, figure it out. They radiated rats and found out that there was this cell — which turned out to be the stem cell — that could be given back to the animal and regenerate the tissues that were damaged. You lose the cells that can replicate when you get radiation poisoning, that’s what kills you. Fundamentally, we’re just made up of trillions of cells. So all cells have a lifespan and when you get older, they wither away. Most cells get replaced from time to time, but if you live long enough you run out of that, too.

So from Russia, after they figured out all this stuff, nothing happened for a long time. Then Ukraine and Kazhakstan started doing a lot of stem cell work with embryos. They had enough information that they just kept going, they didn’t have governments to say don’t do it. They had problems, but a lot of success. Most countries, like US and the Philippines, are not allowed to use fetal stem cells for ethical reasons and there are also issues with fetal stem cells because sometimes they turn into tumors.

If you have a disease, can you still use your own stem cells?

Your fat stem cells are probably free from that disease. We’ve seen a lot of people do fairly well with their own stem cells. Fats in your body seem to be lying dormant and unaffected by the disease. Your bone marrow, on the other hand, seems to be more involved with the disease. It just happens that fat can produce so many more stem cells than bone marrow and they have the same set of tissue markers.

Is it better to get stem cells from a young person if you’re advanced in age yourself?

The stem cells are probably better in a younger person, but we’ve treated 80-year-olds with their own stem cells and they got better. You just need enough — the quantity is more important because the quality doesn’t really change. The fat stem cells stay in pretty good shape for years and years.

How did the partnership of California Stemcell Treatment Center and StemCare come about?

I started doing this about three years ago with an orthopedic surgeon. We formed a little group and I started talking about stem cell therapy because I thought other doctors should get involved. Then it started growing and we formed a surgical network.

Because stem cell therapy is relatively new here, there is a bit of confusion between human and sheep stem cell. How would you compare the two therapies apart from the source?

If you can get your own stem cells, why would you want a sheep’s stem cells? And to quote one of my colleagues in China, “Why a sheep when they only live to be 15 years old? Why not use turtle stem cells who live to be a hundred years old?”

What we’re doing right now might be the tip of the iceberg. It’s a legal way of doing it to provide a service to the public. By doing it as a surgical procedure, it’s not under the auspices of the FDA and different regulatory agencies. They can come in and say they want to regulate it, but they don’t have any more right over doctors doing cell surgery than cardiovascular surgery. If I can take a vein from one part of your body and put it in your heart, I can take cells from your fats and put them back into your knee. It’s not any different.

Why does it work well for anti-aging?

Because fundamentally your glands are made up of cells, so if you have a gland that starts shrinking, it doesn’t produce as much estrogen. If I give you stem cells, eventually your glands start producing more cells.

Is there anybody who cannot use stem cell therapy?

Patients with active cancer. Or anybody with an active infection. In fact, if the patient comes to us and he has dental problems, we have to make sure their teeth are clean before we operate on them. Why? Because if you have infection in your mouth, it gets into the bloodstream so when we do the liposuction, the patient could become infected because the blood contaminates the area and we don’t want to give contaminated cells back into the person.

We consider it a surgical procedure, but it’s not very invasive. It literally takes about six minutes to numb an area on the body, another three or four minutes to harvest the fat, put a little dressing, the person goes out for coffee or lunch and come back an hour later and you’ve got your stem cells.

* * *

StemCare Institute, Center for Pain and Regenerative Medicine is located at 2nd floor, East Building, Forbestown Center Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Call 403-3245, 403-1982.

AUTOLOGOUS FAT STEM CELL REPAIR CALIFORNIA STEMCELL TREATMENT CENTER CELL CELLS FAT PAIN STEM THERAPY
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