The office on the sixth floor of Makati Medical Centerâ€™s Tower 2 contains spare, clean, and chilly rooms, each one fitted with heavy-duty equipment that looks like generators or the industrial freezers used in restaurants. Who knew that these simple rooms contain state-of-the-art technology used to address a host of incurable diseasesâ€”from many types of cancers and heart ailments to Alzheimerâ€™s disease and Multiple Sclerosis?
Launched during the first year of its Cancer Center, Makati Medical Centerâ€™s Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory provides patients with the option to treat specific health conditions with nothing more than their own stem cells. Defined as unspecified cells with the potential to develop into different cell types in the body, stem cells are responsible for growth, regeneration, or tissue repair.
As such, they serve as an internal repair system, endlessly dividing to replenish other cells as long as a person is alive. Using stem cells from a patientâ€™s blood, bone marrow, or in the case of young children, umbilical cord, Stem Cell technology has yielded much success in leukemia cases involving bone marrow transplant. Ongoing studies conducted by clinicians and scientists likewise see Stem Cell technologyâ€™s potential to treat stroke, type 1 diabetes, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and even baldness, blindness, deafness, and missing teeth.
â€śThis is the future of medicine,â€ť says neurosurgeon Eric Flores, MD, head of MMCâ€™s Cellular Therapeutics Lab and an experienced practitioner of stem cell treatment in his capacity as assistant professor of the University of Minnesota. â€śItâ€™s time Makati Medical Center enters the molecular age.â€ť
Stem cell therapy is as controversial as it is cutting edge. Some European health facilities conduct stem cell therapy using embryonic stem cellsâ€”that is, stem cells sourced from aborted fetuses or embryos conceived through in-vitro fertilization. In contrast, MMCâ€™s approach to stem cell therapy employs world-class technology, skilled board-certified medical consultants, and uncompromising safety measures.
Operating under the highest sterility standards at par with the US Food and Drug Administration, the lab boasts state-of-the-art equipment that is â€śtotally unmatched in our country,â€ť declares Dr. Francis Chung, scientific officer of the lab. â€śNo system like this exists elsewhere.â€ť
A Clinimacs CD34 Reagent System isolates specific cells required for treatment (unwanted components are returned to the donor), while a Flow Cytometer confirms the near-perfect purity of cells.Â In the event that stem cells need to be sourced from a donor, the lab strictly adheres to a 10-point DNA matching using technology that minimizes issues that could result from the grafting.
A patient who qualifies for stem cell therapy must pass a screening process involving a series of tests to ensure overall health. Doctors use anaesthesia to harvest healthy cells from a patientâ€™s body (either from the vein or bone marrow); the cultured cells are then processed before they are readministered via injection into the patient.
Patientsâ€™ response to treatment vary; results can be had from as early as the second week to about a month after the start of therapy. Â Side effects include a discomfort in the injection site, fever, and flu-like symptoms.
Such revolutionary technology, of course, comes with a price. Setting patients back by at least P2.5 million, the treatment, like any procedure, offers no guarantee. Still, with early intervention, doctors and patients alike can hope for the best possible outcome.
But just imagine if it did work! Extended and improved quality of life, fewer side effects from conventional treatment, and even eliminating any recurrence of cancer or other fatal diseases are what patients can expect from Stem Cell technology. These reasons alone have made Dr. Flores very busy in the past several months. â€śPeople have been stopping me in the hallways, asking me about stem cell treatment,â€ť he says with a chuckle. â€śEverybody is looking forward to it.â€ť
For more inquiries on stem cell therapy, visit the Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory at 6th floor, Tower 2, Makati Medical Center, 2 Amorsolo Street, Legaspi Village, Makati, or call tel. no. 870-3015 to 17.