I just got back from a short trip to Mexico where I went for the express purpose of having a few grams of placental tissue transplanted beneath the skin of my lower abdomen. I am evaluating this procedure, which has been available in Mexico for nearly 20 years, as a possible rejuvenation treatment for patients who come to my wellness center. Before recommending it to anyone else, I wanted to try it on myself. Fortunately, at age 62, I am still maintaining pretty well, but I’ve collected my share of bumps and dings along the way and I’m committed to doing whatever I can to make it to the Singularity, which is projected for midcentury, and to continue to remain as healthy as possible along the way.
The human placenta is a wondrous organ that serves to nourish a developing fetus, but it also possesses growth factors, hormones and immune modulators, which makes it useful for rejuvenation. A key reason I had the placental tissue implanted under my skin, however, is because it is also loaded with stem cells.
Most of the news centers on embryonic, umbilical cord and adult stem cells, but you don’t hear much about placental stem cells and I really don’t know why. Placental stem cells have several characteristics that make them quite useful for therapeutic and rejuvenation purposes.
Embryonic cells are controversial because a life (or a potential life, depending on your point of view) is destroyed in obtaining them. They are desirable because they don’t have any antigens on their cell surfaces, so they won’t be rejected by anyone who receives them, and also because they are totipotent, meaning they have the ability to turn into any type of cell in the body. The downside to embryonic cells is that they are very difficult to control and their practical value still lies in the future.
Adult stem cells, on the other hand, do have practical applications even in the United States today. They are being used in several clinical trials with surprisingly beneficial results, and as treatments for patients with otherwise incurable conditions in many other regions of the world. Advantages of adult stem cells are that they are easier to work with and easily obtained from the bone marrow.
The human placenta is a wondrous organ… it… possesses growth factors, hormones, and immune modulators, which makes it useful for rejuvenation.
In a typical treatment, a patient’s stem cells are collected from their bone marrow, and the cells are cultured and multiplied in the laboratory. Then they are mixed with various types of growth factors taken from the patient’s circulating blood and reinjected into the patient. In one U.S. clinic, a patient’s own stem cells are reinjected into joints to repair and regrow damaged cartilage, allowing them to avoid joint replacement surgery of the hips, knees and elsewhere. One of my patients has traveled to the Dominican Republic to undergo this treatment to treat his advanced heart failure and lung disease, which were otherwise incurable with conventional therapies.
Many parents today save the umbilical cord blood from their newborns so that the stem cells will be available to the child (and possibly other family members as well) if needed in the future. These cells are multipotent, meaning they can become many — but not all — cell types.
Aside from being available in the event the child develops leukemia and needs chemotherapy along with a stem cell transplant, the value of umbilical cord stem cells lies in the future as well — at least in the United States currently and into the foreseeable future. Umbilical cord stem cells are being used to treat many conditions in hospitals in China and elsewhere today.
Placental stem cells are similar to umbilical cord blood cells, but they are even more “user friendly” as they combine advantages of embryonic stem cells with those of adult cells. They have relatively weak antigens on their surfaces so they can be used in a wide spectrum of potential recipients and they are multipotent, like adult cells, so they are relatively easy to control.
In our two books together, Fantastic Voyage (2004) and Transcend (2009), Ray Kurzweil and I have compared the journey that we will make to reach the Singularity as a passage over three bridges. We define therapeutics available today as bridge one, while biotechnological breakthroughs will constitute bridge two, and nanotechnology, bridge three. The “killer app” of bridge three will be nanobots: autonomous, nanoscale-sized devices that will one day circulate through the blood vessels and tissues of the body, repairing damage, killing infections and malignant cells.
Shortly after I had my placental tissue transplant I realized that I had already started over bridge three. Placental stem cells have powerful “homing” mechanisms which enable them to hone in on areas of the body that are in need of repair just like future mechanical nanobots. Placental stem cells are, in effect, the nanobots of today. I hope they will help me “feel great forever.” I had my transplants about two weeks ago and haven’t noticed anything yet, but will keep you posted.
Terry Grossman, MD is a leading expert on antiaging therapies and the founder and medical director of Frontier Medical Institute in Denver, Colorado. With Ray Kurzweil, he is coauthor of TRANSCEND: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever.