Sunday, September 11, 2016
Powerful chemical weapons, also known as drugs, and sophisticated surgical procedures have dominated the practice of medicine for many decades. For at least the last 15 years, maverick researchers and physicians have been exploring biologic alternatives to drugs and surgery. Instead of searching the world for a novel chemical compound or engineering a sleek surgical device, they have looked in an unusual place--inside the body itself. Could it be possible that the power to heal comes from within our own bodies? The answer today is a qualified yes.
To begin, let's explore platelet rich plasma, also known as "PRP". PRP is a component of blood that can be prepared using a simple desktop sized centrifuge in about 10 minutes. I have using PRP to treat chronic tennis elbow now for more than a decade with excellent success rates. Multiple studies now confirm the value of PRP in the treatment of this common disorder. A recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials noted PRP to be "of great clinical significance." PRP has also been used to treat diabetic foot ulcers, knee arthritis and degenerative disc disease. Overall, there are now more than 8600 published studies evaluating the basic science and clinically efficacy of PRP. Importantly, in all of the areas studied, PRP has an excellent safety record. That of course makes sense. PRP is simply a component of your own blood.
Cancer immunotherapy is another example of using your body to help heal itself. Cancer immunotherapy essentially reprograms your immune system to help fight nasty cancers. Recently published data has found an "unprecedented" 94% of patients with a specific type of blood cancer achieving complete resolution of their symptoms. The technique involves removing your own white blood cells, reprogramming them to attack tumors in the lab and then injecting them back into your body. To quote one researcher, "This is really a revolution."
Finally, a therapy that sounds like it came out of a science fiction or horror movie is just beginning. The idea of parabiosis involves merging the circulation of two animals. The original research was done in young and old rats in 1956. For the details please review a tantalizing paper entitled "Experimental Prolongation of the Life Span (Ref 1) When their circulations were connected, the young mice started becoming "old" and the old mice started to appear "young". Something in the blood of young mice was helping reverse the affects of aging in older mice. The coats of the old gray mice were turning brown again. Other research conducted at Stanford suggested young blood could boost brain cell growth in older mice. (Ref 2, Ref 3 Ref 4) This research was so intriguing, it led to the development of a clinical trial focused on the transfusion of young blood to older patients with Alzheimer's disease. Silicon Valley tycoons are also helping finance similar "treatments" for middle aged rich people who want to stay young or reverse the affects of aging. A company has even been started and is presently conducting clinical trials. Interestingly, the company is named Ambrosia after the mythologic Greek drink that was supposed to confer longevity or even immortality. Peter Thiel, an iconoclastic venture capitalist , appears to be quite interested in this approach to combating the aging process. This approach is clearly not yet proven but is intriguing.
If we are seeking transformative solutions to difficult problems, I suggest we look inside. We might just find the power to heal.