Many parents are professionals are familiar with the benefits and uses of the placenta for maternal consumption/benefit but fewer people know why the hospitals REALLY confiscate all those placentas and what they’re being used for. 

In this post I’d like to share some of my research on stem cells and how they may be of benefit when taken as raw placenta consumption. 

There are essentially two characteristics that give stem cells their therapeutic value. First, they are capable of long-term self-renewal; basically, they can multiply into millions of healthy cells that are exact copies.[1] The equivalent to this kind of reproduction would be if I reproduced, not just a child, but an exact copy of myself (and then both of us started having babies)! Once a stem cell line establishes in the body, it may become ‘immortal,’ meaning it divides without limit for the life of the recipient. It’s essentially like a factory that keeps making factories for the rest of the person’s life. For Jolie, this means that the more time that goes by since her stem cell transplant, the healthier and stronger she will get as more and more of her cells lack that extra chromosome.

The effects of this kind of reproduction are astounding when combined with the stem cell’s second characteristic.  Although stem cells are ‘unspecialized cells’ (like factories that make lots of different products), they can ‘give rise to’ specialized cell types in a process called differentiation. Think of it like a heart cell factory that can keep making more factories or start making all the different types of cardiac cells to transplant into the heart. So when a stem cell divides, each reproduced cell can remain a stem cell or become a specialized cell. The International Society for Stem Cell Research puts it this way, “All stem cells can self-renew (make copies of themselves) and differentiate (develop into more specialized cells).”


Stem Cells Characteristics:

  1. Self-Renewal: Stem Cells use a special kind of cell division to make copies of themselves
  2. Differentiation: Stem Cells can differentiate and develop into more specialized cells

Stem cells provide an internal renewable source to replace damaged cells. A single stem cell can spontaneously become multiple differentiated cells based on need. Multiple trials have documented a single stem cell repairs heart valves and heart muscle tissue takes over damaged cells’ functions and even regulates a heart arrhythmia just with their presence.[2]  So one type of stem cell can give rise to multiple types of tissues that perform different functions. The most medically accurate way of explaining this capacity is to say that stem cells are self-renewing cells that can generate several different types of differentiated, or specialized cells. The body knows how to use fresh cells to rebuild itself without any biomechanical engineering—Amazing.

Before Jolie’s improvement, we had wondered if our family was complete, but after she had such a miraculous transformation with placental stem cells, we knew we had to do it again. If we chose to have more children, in part for the placental therapy, what were the chances that we would see the same level of results? Was Jolie’s progress a coincidence? Where other parent’s stories exaggerated? I really wanted to know the facts about stem cells and growth factors—what they were and how they worked, because deciding to have a fourth child when you live in New York City is a big deal. My biggest question was one I get from a lot of other parents as well.  “If stem cells are so miraculously transformative, why hadn’t my doctor recommended stem cell therapy, and why didn’t more people pursue this therapy treatment?” I also had heard a lot of negative things about stem cells. There were international clinics that charged thousands of dollars but had inconsistent outcomes, and then there was all the controversy about stem cells I had seen in the news in the early 2000s. What was all of that about? I wanted to find out.

Adult Stem Cells versus Embryonic Stem Cells

When I started reading about stem cells, I read about them causing serious side effects like tumors. But then I realized it’s important to differentiate between the adult stem cells you find in the placenta versus embryonic stem cells which you would never apply outside of a laboratory/medical context. The treatment needed to re-establish functioning bone marrow after chemotherapy treatments are done using embryonic stem cells. “Placental-derived stem cells are often viewed as ‘adult’ stem cells in contrast to ‘embryonic’ stem cells, which are the dominant focus in the stem cell research field. These placental stem cells can be harvested without the ethical concerns attached to the use of embryonic stem cells.”[3] Even though placenta stem cells are categorized as ‘adult’ they have greater therapeutic potential than other adult types. “Because these stem cells are only nine months old when the cord blood is harvested, they appear to have greater plasticity (the ability to generate differentiated cell types) and thus greater restorative and regenerative potential than stem cells derived from adult tissues.”[4]

The fact that placenta stem cells are not embryonic will be value to know for some—others reading this may not know about the controversy. Essentially, the ethical concerns with embryonic stem cells developed into a national dispute and eventually the highest levels of government stepped in to restrict experimentation. In the summer of 2001, President George W. Bush ended all federal funding for research on human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines, as governmental and research institutes began furiously back-pedaling on multi-million dollar research initiatives. What was the issue? The stem cell lines for these treatments are taken from living human embryos that have been artificially created outside of a mother’s womb.  It was a real human life but involved no pregnancy—no mother to advocate for this life. At stem cell harvesting the human life is extinguished, at least I am tempted to say life, but human existence or experience may be a better term as no lifetime is actually lived. This is an intentional creation of a human existence based on monetary gain rather than human love.  Its end is as sudden and inhumane as was its beginning. It is scientifically undisputed that the coveted stem cells are rightfully categorized as human tissue and human tissue that is harvested from humans who have been specifically bred to be ‘a donor.’ The only difference between the person reading this, and the humans bred for tissue donation is the simple variable of time—we are older than them. The whole process can hardly be deemed innovative. Historically, our most exploitive attempts to ‘advance’ or ‘evolve’ have always depended on the premise that the exploited parties aren’t human.

Now, the American Cancer Society insists that all this is necessary because all adult stem cell transplants (including placental stem cell transplants) take longer to transplant and start working (engraft). Comparatively, embryonic stem cells rapidly divide and grow and are much more ideal for post-cancer treatments that require near-immediate results. The pharmaceutical profits they underwrite demand their existence. These immediate regenerative properties, however, come with a cost and pose multiple challenges.

 “The promise of embryonic stem cells is that they can form any type of cell in the body,”[5] says the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The trouble is that when implanted…they do just that, in the form of tumors called teratomas. These tumors consist of a mass of many cells types and can include hair cells and many other tissues.”[6] Embryotic stem cells must be harvested, typed, tested/identified, isolated and grown, transported, and successfully delivered into the recipient. The integration of multiple fields of medicine into “successful therapy outcomes is an exceedingly complex process that requires expertise from many disciplines, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, and virology, in addition to bioprocess manufacturing capability and clinical laboratory infrastructure.”[7]

The processes by which these labs retrieve, expand the cell lines, and reintroduce the cells back into the body have risks which include contamination with viruses, bacteria, and pathogens, and the interference of cell function during cell manipulation. Cellular manipulation that damages the cell so it cannot appropriately control cellular growth is a danger that leads to the risk of tumors. Infection and tissue rejection are also significant risks.

Why Embryotic Stem Cell Lines are Winning the Race of Clinical Translation

Embryotic stem cells are more developed as a stem cell source because of their ability to reestablish cellular function after nearly-lethal chemotherapy treatments. Clinical roadmaps that define the success of adult stem cell therapy treatments are still in the process of being created and analyzed; stem cell treatments proven to be beneficial are still few in number. But the reason for this is more economical than it is medical. This is because scientific experimentation and discoveries are translated into standards of care that are widely recommended and marketed after a process frequently called ‘clinical translation.’ Clinical trials are a large part of this process that turns initial discoveries to mainstream medicine. A clinical trial is usually a research study that’s been funded by a company hoping to patent and profit from the new treatment. Viable treatment options often never receive industry standard research when the treatment can’t be monopolized. Without a monetary incentive, the research goes unfunded and undeveloped. The ‘invisible hand of the market’ is clearly seen in stem cell therapies; the treatment needed to re-establish functioning bone marrow, after nearly-lethal chemotherapy treatments, was generously underwritten by the pharmaceutical companies eager to increase their chemotherapy product’s treatment outcomes. The positive result of this is that thousands of children’s lives have been spared from leukemia; stem cells are also now commonly used to treat diseases or injury to the bone, and some applications are now approved for treating skin and eye surface trauma.

When I started understanding the amount of effort that goes into successful embryonic stem cell therapy treatments, ‘at-home placental stem cell therapy’ started to sound like a crock of pseudoscience nonsense. Until that is, I began to realize that many clinical trials are attempting to address problems that are not relevant to at-home placental stem cell consumption. Cord blood and placental stem cells have a longer growth and establishment timeline than rapidly expanding embryonic lines, but they also don’t have the problems embryotic stem cells present. “Virtually all evidence has shown that the mature cells are restricted to their one identity and don’t appear to revert to a teratoma-forming cell.”[8] Placental stem cells are in fact emerging as a solution to embryotic stem cell challenges. One textbook on placental tissue and cord blood stem cells explains how placenta mesenchymal stem cells may be able to solve some of these challenges due to their ability to “generate a local immunosuppressive microenvironment.”[9] Another article (Antitumor Activities of Human Placenta-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells) explains how “human placenta-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hpMSCs) are particularly attractive cells for clinical use in cell-based therapies.”[10] They have antitumor effects and can significantly decrease tumor volumes without apparent systemic toxic effects. These observations were associated with significantly decreased blood sprouts and tumor cell proliferation as well as a dramatically increased tumor apoptosis index.[11]

Embryonic cell lines are also coveted for their low immunological barriers and undifferentiated cell state; scientists are able to grow large numbers of cells that can therapeutically applied to a genetically diverse group of people. Just like organ transplants, donated stem cells must ‘match’ the recipient; whenever a cell or organ is transplanted into the body.  The body may ‘read’ the stem cells as foreign material and attack any donated cells that don’t contain matching HLA (human leukocyte antigens). This response is similar the risks of a kidney or liver transplant; there is always a chance that the donated tissue or cells will not successfully transplant and engraft in the recipient. Lab-grown stem cell lines are engineered before transplantation to override the recipient’s immune system’s efforts to reject the transplant.  This presents multiple challenges, the least of which is tumors. These again, are all challenges that are not present with a simple application of ‘adult’ placental stem cells.

Here are the thesis statement and conclusion of a public abstract submitted to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The scientist begins his whole submission with this thesis statement: “Human placenta is a potential source of primitive fetal stem cells, yet it is poorly studied.”[12]

Essentially explaining exactly why that is the case, the scientist goes on to state, “Use of placental stem cells will greatly reduce the need for embryonic stem cells…Placenta as a source of abundant numbers of stem cells will greatly lessen the need for stem cell line propagation. Cryopreservation of individual placentas would provide a life-long source of personal stem cells. If the aims of the application are achieved, novel therapies will likely result. Stem cell-based therapies are the promising future of medicine. The application of this treatment is limited because of the restricted supply of appropriate stem cell lines, as it is necessary to match certain characteristics of the donor’s and host’s immune systems. I have carried out pioneering studies demonstrating that human placenta may be used as a source of such stem cell lines. These cell lines derived from human placenta will contribute to research in stem cell biology and clinical applications. Furthermore, placentas are readily available from any individual giving birth. As this approach does not require the donation or use of either human embryos or eggs, it will greatly reduce the ethical concerns and may help overcome the limitations inherent in obtaining excess human embryos… These stem cell lines will be used in regenerative medicine research and cell replacement therapies as well as the development of new treatment approaches… Ultimately the knowledge and experience produced by the work proposed will contribute to the goal of making stem cell transplantation and new medical approaches available to a much broader group of patients. Storage of human placentas as a source of patient-specific stem cells through the life of each individual will someday become a medical necessity, and California may become the pioneer in this breakthrough initiative.”[13]

An increased use of placental stem cells as a source of “patient-specific stem cells through the life of each individual” will be a welcome future indeed![14]

So, it turns out that embryotic stem cell lines are ‘ahead’ in the race of being clinically translated from a medical discovery to mainstream medicine that your neighborhood doctor would likely know about and recommend. But the reason why, as we’ve seen, is largely because the broad application due to scientists’ ability to grow them in significant numbers, to manipulate them into multiple stem cell types, and their ability to match them to the public. These three factors make the monetary incentive behind embryotic stem cells very high. The next section, that dives into placental stem cells, will explain even more just why that is the case. To find out more about our program teaching parents how to use placental stem cells go here. For more information on how to become a community resource, go here. To connect with other parents on facebook about this method go here but please note this group is NOT RUN or admined by us but by a parent who has used this method. 

The Benefits & Limitations of Placental Stem Cells

Now that you understand why more clinical trials were initially being done on embryotic stem cells than on placental stem cells, let’s turn to the limitations and benefits of adult stem cells. Adult stem cells have two major challenges for widespread therapeutic use.

  1. Because the mature adult stem cells are often already differentiated, tissue-specific stem cells must be locationally harvested according to the condition being treated.
  2. The stem cells must be harvested in large enough quantities to provide an effective treatment.

[1] Dan L. Longo, Editor, Anthony S. Fauci, Editor, Dennis L. Kasper, Editor, Stephen L. Hauser, Editor, J. Larry Jameson, Editor, Joseph Loscalzo, Editor. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 18e. Minoru S. H. Ko Chapter 65. Stem Cell Biology. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. 2011.

[2] National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Stem Cells and Diseases. In Stem Cell Information, 2012 [Cited 1st, August 2017]

[3] Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. “Multipotent Stromal Stem Cells from Normally Discarded Human Placental Tissue Demonstrate High Therapeutic Potential.” ScienceDaily. 18, May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120518132250.htm>.

[4] Steenblock, David A. Anthony G. Payne. Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Therapy: The Gift of Healing from Healthy Newborns. Basic Health Publications, Inc. Laguna Beach, 2006.

[5] NIH Stem Cell Information Home Page. In Stem Cell Information. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016 [cited 1 August, 2017] Available at <//stemcells.nih.gov/info/Regenerative Medicine/2006 Chapter4.htm>

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. “Multipotent Stromal Stem Cells from Normally Discarded Human Placental Tissue Demonstrate High Therapeutic Potential.” ScienceDaily. 18, May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120518132250.htm>.

[9] Wang Y, Zhao S. Vascular Biology of the Placenta. San Rafael (CA): Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences; 2010. Chapter 10, Placental Tissue and Cord Blood Stem Cells. Available from: <www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53250/> Accessed 1 August 2017

[10] Zheng, Lan et al. “Antitumor Activities of Human Placenta-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Expressing Endostatin on Ovarian Cancer.” Ed. Olivier de Wever. PLoS ONE 7.7 2012, e39119.

[11] Zheng, Lan et al. “Antitumor Activities of Human Placenta-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Expressing Endostatin on Ovarian Cancer.” Ed. Olivier de Wever. PLoS ONE 7.7 2012, e39119.

[12] Submission no longer published online.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

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