Cell therapy seeks to reverse the ravages of degenerative disease by injecting healthy animal cells (or cell extracts) into the patient’s bloodstream. A variety of claims have been made for the treatments, which achieved considerable popularity among the rich and famous during the mid-20th century. The injections have been promoted as a way to improve overall health, boost the immune system, enhance vitality, counteract the effects of aging, cure impotence, stimulate healing, relieve arthritis, reverse Parkinson’s disease, and even fight cancer. They’ve also been used to treat painful menstruation, infertility, herpes, prostate problems, bronchial disorders, epilepsy, hardening of the arteries, bladder infections, skin problems, hepatitis, heart problems, circulatory disorders, and menopause.
Unfortunately, despite numerous testimonials, there are no studies verifying cell therapy’s purported beneficial effects, and the treatments have been banned in the United States since 1985 due to the danger of infections and allergic reactions. (Unlike blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants, which are carefully matched to the recipient, animal-cell injections can trigger serious immune rejection reactions.) One highly publicized achievement of cell therapy–the alleviation of Down’s syndrome–has been conclusively disproven. In clinical trials, children receiving cell therapy showed no improvement in mental ability.
How the Treatments Are Done
The cells used in this type of therapy are usually taken from unborn sheep or pigs. In its original form (pioneered by Swiss physician Paul Niehans in the 1930s), the therapy called for live cells, which were prepared for injection by finely mincing the animals’ tissues or glands and mixing them with a special saline solution. The injections were typically made within one hour of the donor animal’s death to ensure that the cells maintained their vitality and to avoid the breakdown of the living material into toxic substances.
Today, however, therapists are more likely to use freeze-dried cells or antibodies produced from the cells. These preparations are said to offer the same benefits as live-cell therapy with less danger of infection or immune reactions. The newer forms of treatment are also less costly.
Prior to treatment, the therapist will probably give you a physical exam and take a health history to determine whether cell therapy is appropriate. (If a specific organ or gland is the target of the treatments, it must retain enough vitality to respond to stimulation.) The therapist will then give a test injection to make sure you won’t suffer an allergic reaction. If any sensitivity is detected, additional injections will be canceled and you’ll be advised to seek another form of treatment.
A variety of injections are available. The preparations most commonly employed today by the leading practitioners in the field include:
A COMBINATION OF VARIOUS CELL TYPES
These injections are used primarily for revitalization purposes. The patient is injected with four types of cells–pituitary, liver, connective tissue, and male or female reproductive glands–plus a fifth type selected according to the patient’s specific need. For example if the patient has liver problems, liver cells will be included in the preparation.
WHOLE EMBRYO ULTRAFILTRATE INJECTIONS
This type of injection is intended to stimulate connective tissues and muscles, increase fluid content in the tissues, and retard aging. The preparation contains material from all areas of the embryo, and is therefore considered effective for the whole body. As with the combination injections, if a patient is experiencing problems in a particular area, such as the liver or kidney, the injections can be supplemented with cells from those organs as well.
THERAPEUTIC IMMUNOLOGY (ANTIBODY INJECTIONS)
This more sophisticated variation of the treatments relies on antibodies rather than the cells themselves. The injections are produced by administering the cells to an animal, whose immune system then manufacturers antibodies in response. These antibodies are then harvested from the animal’s blood, purified, and administered to the patient in much the same way that shots of gamma globulin are given to boost immunity.
Such use of antibodies is actually one of the hottest research areas in medicine today. Antibodies produced by genetic engineering are being used experimentally to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Several products are already under FDA review.
Cell therapists who use antibody preparations claim they have no side effects. To enhance effectiveness and prevent potential reactions, the antibodies are administered via both injection and suppository in low doses over a period of several weeks or months. Cell extracts containing ribonucleic acid, the material that transmits genetic information from the DNA, are often added to the antibodies to enhance the effectiveness of therapy.
These treatments offer a potpourri of cells, cell extracts, and antibodies combined with various nutrients and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound that stores and transfers energy within cells, and which is thought to promote cellular and tissue regeneration. Practitioners typically administer this preparation either under the tongue or through the nasal or rectal passage, where it is quickly absorbed.
Treatment Time: For each method discussed, patients typically receive 2 to 5 doses per session.
Treatment Frequency: Varies according to the method employed and the body’s response; some cases may require only one session, while other patients may undergo additional sessions for a period of 6 months, 1 year, or perhaps up to 2 years.
What Treatment Hopes to Accomplish
Traditional cell therapy is founded on the belief that, when injected into a human patient, certain animal fetal cells will automatically travel to the same organ from which they were procured and revitalize its activity. For example, it’s thought that fetal liver cells introduced into the human body will naturally migrate to the host liver and stimulate regeneration; kidney cells will migrate to the kidney, and so forth. The newer, antibody form of therapy relies less on regeneration of specific organs and more on general stimulation of the immune system.
Depending upon how the treatment is administered and for what condition, the benefits of cell therapy are sometimes reported to appear in as little as 36 hours, as in the case of a hepatitis patient said to have experienced almost immediate rejuvenation after a liver cell injection. However, most recoveries take 4 to 6 months, and proponents say that the overall long-term healing process can take several years, as the body begins to accept the transplanted cells, resumes normal activity, slowly rebuilds stamina, and increases blood supply.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
Cell therapy is not recommended for those with kidney disease, liver failure, or acute infections and inflammatory diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine and rectum. (Note, however, that this may not necessarily apply to the genetically engineered antibody treatments currently under investigation in the United States. These products are being tested for use in patients who do in fact have ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases, particularly Crohn’s disease.)
Of course, patients who show an allergic reaction to a test injection during the screening process should not receive treatments.
What Side Effects May Occur?
There are a number of potential side effects of which individuals considering this therapy should be aware. Any type of cell therapy is likely to produce fatigue, typically from the time of injection to as much as 2 weeks afterwards. Allergic reactions are also quite possible.
With live cell therapy, there is a distinct danger that the body’s immune system will reject the material, as it does an organ transplant. Among the signs of rejection are high fevers.
How to Choose a Therapist
Although cell therapy is practiced in Europe, the Bahamas, Switzerland and Mexico, in the United States it is unapproved–and is likely to remain so until solid proof of its effectiveness can be found. Intra-species cell transplants–human to human–are currently under study in the U.S. for treatment of Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. However, these treatments are quite different from those offered by overseas cell therapists.
Before committing to a trip abroad for this serious form of alternative treatment, you should give serious consideration to the following issues:
Travel: Those who wish to pursue “classic” cell therapy are, of course, required to leave the U.S. Keep in mind that the uncertainty of treatment outcomes and absence from family, friends, and familiar surroundings may create yet another stress level. Compounding these anxieties may be language barriers and stark cultural differences.
Treatment success: Because there is little scientific information on these treatments, it’s important to quiz potential therapists about such concerns as success rates, side effects, length of treatment, and duration of beneficial effects. Ask for documented cases and testimonials, and seek to clarify response time and quality of life issues.
Also, ask for referrals to patients who have actually undergone the same treatment plan with the same physician, and consider obtaining as much information as possible via telephone and mail. A good starting point is the International Clinic of Biological Regeneration North American Information Office, which can provide general information and referrals. (See “Resources” below.)
Also, once treatment has been rendered, be sure to clarify any instructions that must be followed to ensure maximum success. For example, should you follow a special diet? Is a special exercise program needed?
Finances: Don’t forget that these treatments will require a major investment. They often cost several thousand dollars and are rarely covered by insurance. Establish up front, in writing, what the total cost will be and how payment is to be made.
When Should Treatment Stop?
Since many cell therapy treatment plans are undertaken to combat the ongoing aging process, it’s conceivable that you could undergo treatment indefinitely, returning to the clinic every few years for the same treatment, as long as you are satisfied with the results.
However, if you are taking the treatments to correct a specific medical problem, don’t be overly patient. If your symptoms fail to improve–or get worse–be quick to seek a different therapeutic alternative.
See a Conventional Doctor If…
For most diseases, a wide array of potential treatments are available to you–and the longer they’re delayed, the more serious your condition can become. If cell therapy doesn’t yield significant improvement within a matter of months, seek other forms of care. If you have cancer or some other life-threatening illness, finding a more effective type of treatment is particularly urgent.
Likewise, if the treatments cause persistent side effects such as severe fatigue or allergies, there is no compelling reason to put up with them. Check with one or more doctors for a less troublesome–and possibly more effective–treatment regime.