Bone Marrow Stem Cells can Replace the “Batteries” of Injured Cells

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how stem cells work

We are constantly learning more and more about how stem cells work.  You may have never heard the word “mitochondria”. These are the little power plants found in every cell. They convert chemicals into energy that allows the cell to function. A paper published this month in Nature Medicine may completely change the way physicians think about mitochondria and stem cells forever. It’s been known for awhile that if you experimentally injure an animal’s lungs and then place bone marrow mesesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into the damaged area, the cells can help the injured lung tissue regenerate. Researchers have also shown the opposite, that placing MSCs in healthy tissue can help the lung to survive a chemical insult. What wasn’t known was how this happened. It had usually been assumed that much of it likely worked through the MSCs releasing chemicals and growth factors that helped stimulate tissue repair or that the stem cells changed into new lung cells. Now comes a new theory that blows the established concepts out of the water. In this lung tissue/stem cell study these researchers documented that the MSCs actually transferred their mitochondria into the injured cells to provide new power plants to the dying cells. Wow! This may be a major discovery (Nobel prize class) showing how stem cells work. The upshot? As I’ve blogged before, we frequently see significant improvements in some patients who don’t show changes in their MRIs and some of these improvements last a very long time. This could be one mechanism of how that works-resuscitating injured cartilage cells by replacing their damaged batteries!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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