In 2014 and 2015, a viral campaign started in the UK that started people talking about stem cell therapy (and causing individuals to sign up to donate stem cells!), in an unprecedented way. Known as the “Pants Campaign,” this social media trend has had many Twitter users, including celebrities, wearing underpants on their heads while holding signs with messages in support of Hollie Clark, an eight-year-old Welsh girl, who suffered from a rare disease that affects the bone marrow. Although the campaign did lead to a stem cell match for Hollie, she died in November 2014. However, according to a BBC article, her family has taken comfort in the legacy that Hollie left behind. Since the “Pants Campaign” began, 9,557 Welsh citizens became stem cell donors in 2015.
Dr. Solomon Kamson, founder of the Northwest Spinal Institute, points out that stem cell therapy is a viable option for many people who may need treatment. However, an increased access to stem cell donors is needed. As with other volunteer donor programs, such as marrow, organ, tissue, and to a lesser extent blood donations, it can be difficult to get people to sign up to become a donor if they don’t personally know someone in need, or if they haven’t been encouraged to do so.
Often times, it is unlikely that individuals in an immediate community, even from one’s own family, will be able to donate stem cells for an individual. For example, in the case of Vithiya Alphons, a donor could not be located in the country and as a result, her mother stepped up to provide a stem cell donation even though she was only considered a 50% match. Finding a sufficient variety of stem cell donors is particularly difficult for individuals who are in the minority in their home country, because it is generally easier to find a donor match among people who have a similar genetic background.
One of the great things to arise from the “Pants Campaign” is an increased awareness in Wales that registering as a stem cell donor is quite easy. Interested donors simply need to provide a cheek swab so that officials can keep a record of their genetic make-up. With this information on file, doctors can search through the list of available donors to find a match in any situation in which a donor is needed. Once a potential donor is matched with a patient, they can be contacted to find out if they are available to act as a donor.
So how does stem cell donation work, exactly? The short answer is that it depends on the particular situation. For example, stem cells can be collected from the blood, bone marrow, or placenta and the umbilical cord tissue following a pregnancy. Stem cells can be collected from a variety of sources, and a doctor will select the type of cells appropriate to the condition to be treated. If you become a donor, the actual process of donating tissue is similar to having blood drawn or donating bone marrow.
Stem cells are incredibly useful in a variety of medical applications. They can be used to rebuild damage or diseased tissue in parts of the body that are not capable of self-repair like organs and cartilage. While stem cell procedures are still in the process of becoming available in many countries, it’s clear that the demand for increased access is great. In recent years, more doctors have incorporated stem cell therapy into their prescribed options, while researchers have been at work developing new stem cell-therapy applications. There are many investors expressing considerable interest in pharmaceutical developments for stem cell therapies. As interest increases world-wide, more people will likely become aware of the need for donors, leading to increased access for patients in need of treatment.
Interest in how regenerative therapy using stem cells might alleviate your pain? Contact us now or call 206-496-0630.