May 26, 2024

Stem cells have become a favorite miracle treatment among the rich and famous, with Kim Kardashian reportedly a fan of stem cell facials and Cristiano Ronaldo turning to stem cell injections after a hamstring injury.

The latest to extol their benefits is Monty Python actor John Cleese, who suggests that stem cells could hold the secret of eternal youth – or, at the very least, buy him “a few extra years”.

In an interview with Saga magazine, the 84-year-old revealed that for the past two decades he has paid a private Swiss clinic £17,000 every 12 to 18 months for stem cell therapy which he admits looks “not bad”. age.

So does Cleese make a good investment? Stem cells have remarkable medical potential. They are the body’s master cells that, in the embryo, go on to produce every cell type in the body. Even in adulthood, our body retains reserves of less versatile stem cells that mobilize to repair injuries and constantly regenerate skin and other tissues.

Stem cell transplants have long been used in the treatment of leukemia and there are a host of ground-breaking trials using stem cells to to treat genetic skin disordersParkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

However, there are also private clinics that make far-reaching claims that fall into a regulatory “grey zone” because these therapies use patients’ own cells rather than drugs that would have to be licensed.

“There is not a single clinical trial that indicates these treatments are safe or effective,” says Prof Darius Widera, a stem cell biologist at the University of Reading. “All these clinics are taking advantage of a regulatory loophole.”

It is not clear what type of therapy Cleese received, although he described something like a biological MOT by saying: “These cells travel around the body and when they discover a place that needs repair, they will turn into the cells that you want to repair, so that they may become cartilage cells or liver cells.”

Typically, clinics extract stem cells from adipose tissue, multiply them in the laboratory and reinfuse them. Widera is blunt in his statement about the likelihood that stem cells will achieve the intended effects: “No, they won’t.”

Adult stem cells are already somewhat specialized and therefore will not easily turn into liver cells, for example. And the body becomes less efficient at recruiting stem cells as we age, whether injected or not.

“If you transplant a stem cell into an old environment, it won’t work as well,” says Prof Ilaria Bellantuono, co-director of the Healthy Lifespan Institute at the University of Sheffield. “They will be influenced by their old environment.”

There are also concerns about the safety of such therapies. Several patients lost their sight after receiving stem cell treatment for degenerative eye conditions at an unregulated clinic in Florida. Other complications of unregulated treatments include life-threatening infections, tumors, heart attacks or even death.

Prof Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell expert at the University of California, Davis, said:I love John Cleesebut I worry that his anti-aging stem cell efforts may do more harm than good.

“First of all, the stem cells he receives regularly may pose health risks to him. It is not clear that any particular type of stem cells is safe or effective unless they have undergone careful clinical trials. Also, the claims he makes about anti-aging are unproven.

“The second thing is that over-exuberant statements made by celebrities about what stem cells could do for them can encourage everyday people to follow their lead at both health and financial risks.”

Cleese says he has been receiving stem cell therapy for 20 years, which would have made him an early adopter, but now leaves him behind the curve. In the last few years, the field of longevity research has moved away from stem cells as scientists and Silicon Valley billionaires focused on the potential of various molecules to “rewind” the clock on cells throughout the body. There is compelling evidence that such life-extending treatments work, at least in animals, with one team that the oldest living laboratory rat last year

“Small molecules in the field are really the future,” says Prof Evelyne Bischof, who researches longevity at Jiaotong School of Medicine in Shanghai.

It remains to be seen whether longevity agents have similarly impressive rejuvenating effects in humans as they do in rodents. But unlike stem cell infusions, which require custom preparations administered by medical professionals, such anti-aging pills could become mainstream rather than remaining the preserve of Hollywood stars.

“It will be small molecule drugs that will make the real difference,” Bischof said. “Not only for the patient, but also for accessibility.”

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