There is a common misconception in the world of regenerative medicine that a patient may reach an age at which stem cell treatment will no longer be effective. In fact, the conditions which respond best to stem cell treatments are most common in elderly populations. Degenerative joint disorders, for instance, are ideal for stem cell therapy. Yet, they are often addressed instead with ineffective treatments such as over-the-counter painkillers or invasive procedures including total knee replacements.
The problem lies in the fact that elderly patients face greater risks for challenges following knee and hip reconstructions or replacements than younger individuals, including increased lengths of hospital stays and postoperative complications. But are elderly patients also more inclined to experience barriers with stem cell treatment? The answer is no – as long as the proper approach is used.
Types of Stem Cells
There are a few different ways stem cells can be used for therapy. Stem cells may be taken from a patient’s own bone marrow or fat deposits (called adipose stem cell therapy); or, they can be harvested from umbilical cord tissues. The latter is the second-youngest stem cells, outside of embryonic stem cells. Thus, they are considered the purest and most capable of functioning effectively and quickly. In elderly patients, the ability to heal completely and efficiently is critical to making a complete recovery from degenerative conditions, which is what makes umbilical cord-derived stem cells ideal for this age group.
How Stem Cells Change with Age
As we age, our cells (including stem cells) take on different properties. According to a study performed on individuals aged 5 to 80, age was specifically shown to impact the cloning efficiency and proliferation rate of stem cells. In other words, the older cells are, the more limited their cloning potential is. This is important because stem cells’ healing power lies in their ability to proliferate within the joint and create new cartilage.
Umbilical Cells: The Best for Elderly Patients
Researchers note that many of the properties among stem cells derived from adipose and umbilical cord tissues bear strong similarities. Yet, the strong advantages of umbilical cord-derived stem cells, including their ability to outperform other stem cells in terms of proliferation, makes them an attractive option for older adults. More importantly, the critical characteristics of stem cells which change with age are the very factors that make them effective, which is why harvested cells in elderly adults may have limited potential for tissue repair. Thus, while adipose stem cells are highly effective in younger individuals, it is recommended that individuals 65 and older be treated with umbilical cord-derived stem cell sources, as they are more potent in this population for therapeutic applications.