Stem cell therapy healing Jamaicans - The miracle of using your body to self-repair
Anastasia Cunningham, Health Coordinator
Deeming it nothing short of a medical miracle, Dr Janice Simmonds-Fisher strongly believes stem cell therapy should become a routine part of medical treatment in Jamaica.
Operator of BIO-regeneration Integrated Medical Center in Montego Bay, St James, which introduced stem cell therapy to Jamaica a year ago, Simmonds-Fisher is now working on making that a reality.
"To have the potential to use your own cells to repair an area in your body is an amazing tool that is every patient's hope - no harsh drugs or major procedures. To be able to use stem cell treatments to save someone's life or give them back their quality of life is phenomenal," declared Simmonds-Fisher.
Stem cell research has had bad press over the years due to the misconception that stem cells can only come from embryos. This isn't true, she said. The treatments offered in Jamaica are autologous, which means the patients use their own stem cells, which can be harvested from their adipose or fat tissue or from mobilised peripheral blood.
"Stem cell therapy is the best tool we have right now because stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, spinal cord injury, heart disease and a host of orthopaedic indications," she noted.
"In theory, there's no disease that is exempt from a possible treatment that comes out of stem cell research. There is the potential to make breakthroughs in any disease and this is what excites me about the research. It is inevitable for medicine. This is our immediate future."
A physician for more than 10 years, Simmonds-Fisher got involved in stem cell therapy through her involvement in the anti-ageing industry. A year ago, BIO-regeneration started focusing on adult stem cell therapy for lung disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
Her company has already done more than 80 successful cases, 60 of which were referrals from Bioheart in the United States in Miami, Florida, a regenerative medicine company, which sends patients here for the treatment.
Playing a major role in Jamaica's health tourism, patients fly down for the treatment, spend a few days at a resort to recuperate then return home. Simmonds-Fisher is hopeful that, soon, more Jamaicans will benefit from the treatment.
"We have assisted in some of the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] clinical trials that have allowed several conditions to be fully approved in the United States. My company has pioneered the work here, which is just the beginning. The word is spreading, which has piqued the interest of persons in the medical profession. Eventually, we will be able to spread our wings wider in Jamaica and train other physicians," stated Simmonds-Fisher.
"I eventually want us in Jamaica to establish our own Centres for Regenerative Medicine and incorporate cell therapy into the regular hospital systems. I know we will get there eventually, maybe even within 10 years."
OPEN NEW AVENUES
The treatments work very well and are approved in the US for arthritis, fractures not uniting and certain sport injuries. She said the aim is not to reinvent the wheel but to do a study in the local population. The doctor is now exploring the possibility of conducting a stem cell study, the data from which will be presented to the medical association.
"Stem cell treatment is such a big area of research, every major university in the world has invested heavily in it. It is hoped that one day it will get to the point where stem cells can be used to actually make new organs in the body. In fact, one of the big areas for it now is actually in heart repair," noted Simmonds-Fisher.
"Stem cell therapy is going to open new avenues, new leases on life for a lot of people. It is seen as the biggest breakthrough in medicine for our century. We are actually at the point now where we can repair some of the degeneration in the body early on, we can prevent it from progressing and we can actually reverse a lot of the symptoms."
Stem cell is not a panacea and there are some conditions that respond better than others. Stem cell therapies do not replace traditional treatments and have separate indications depending on the condition. They can provide patients with a better quality of life and improve the productivity of the patient.
"This is something that I am really passionate about and I see the potential that we have locally. There are so many patients who are suffering needlessly from various injuries, but can't afford the alternative. They will not only be able to afford stem cell therapy, but they will regain their quality of life," said Simmonds-Fisher.
Additionally, she said, there are some patients with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, which would prevent them from undergoing major surgeries, or athletes who do not have the luxury of the downtime that is required with major surgery.
"Stem cell therapy has been used all over the world for sports injuries. In Jamaica, we need to start looking at the quality of our athletes and the type of treatments so that we can be able to treat them on that level," she stated.
"The process is quite simple and very effective. For instance, if you have a new injury, stem cells can be harvested from your body to repair the injury. With stem cell therapy, what you are actually putting in is your body's repair team, and the closer you put it to the injured area, the more successful the repair will be to that area."
She added, "I've always been about expanding lifestyle and wellness and how to actually do preventative medicine instead of responsive medicine, responding to illnesses and chronic-illness management.
"To hear the stories from patients who have benefited from stem cell therapy is really encouraging. It gives me the motivation to encourage my colleagues to explore the applications in their respective fields. It is very heart-warming and humbling to be a part of some of these everyday miracles."