618 Idaho Street #3 | Elko, Nv 89801 |Office: 775-777-7066 | Fax: 775-777-3120 | Get Directions | Contact Us

Dr. Ward at the front desk.Recent study has linked the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers to increased stem cell production. To familiarize you with hyperbaric oxygen, the process involves breathing oxygen in a chamber that has been pressurized to 2.5 atmospheres. Many people are familiar with hyperbaric oxygen chambers being utilized to decompress deep-sea divers. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are also used at wound care centers to treat burn patients and patients with diabetic ulcers/poor wound healing. Recently, however, hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been utilized to treat a myriad of conditions, including closed head injuries, fibromyalgia, CVA (stroke), multiple sclerosis, Lyme decease, and even autism. Many professional athletes have been utilizing hyperbaric oxygen chambers to enhance their athletic performance. One name that you might recognize is the Olympic gold medal winning Michael Phelps.

The process of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is as follows: Normally, oxygen enters the lungs and has to be picked up by a red blood cell and delivered to the tissues of the body. The red blood cell acts like a taxi cab, picking up the oxygen from the lungs and delivering it. This is normally a fairly efficient system, however the red blood cells can only carry so many oxygen molecules at a time, and can only deliver these via the circulatory system (small arteries and capillaries). The problem arises when the lungs are compromised and can't deliver the oxygen to the red blood cells, or if the circulatory system is compromised. If either of these occurs, the oxygen molecules can't get delivered in an efficient manner. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, tissue damage can occur, and the body's ability to heal from injuries is significantly decreased. By subjecting the patient to increased atmospheric pressure, the oxygen molecules are able to enter the lungs and immediately transfer into the serum, cerebral spinal fluid and lymphatics without requiring delivery by the red blood cell. The hyperbaric oxygen treatments saturate the body with oxygen and allow for delivery of the oxygen to regions of compromised circulation or injury. This process assists the body in it's ability to heal and also to regenerate damaged tissues. It should be noted that without an adequate oxygen supply, damaged tissue will heal with secondary tissue (scar tissue) instead of healthy functioning new tissue. For example, if someone undergoes a shoulder surgery, and if adequate oxygen is not available, the healing will occur with scar tissue. That scar tissue will limit mobility and interfere with the efforts to rehabilitate and strengthen that shoulder.

Now with regard to the issue of stem cells, stem cells (progenitor cells) are essentially undifferentiated cells that can develop into any cell type. These cells are plentiful in the developing fetus, as these cells "specialize" into specific cell types, such as bone cells, nerve cells, skin cells and the cells that make up every organ in our body. You may be familiar with the recent controversies regarding harvesting stem cells to inject into adults in the hope that these undifferentiated cells will specialize into specific cell types and repair the damaged tissues. A lot of the recent research has been involved with brain and spinal cord injuries. The controversy is twofold: The first is involves the moral implications of how these stem cells are harvested. The second issue involves the lack of adequate research indication that there is any benefit in injecting these stem cells into an injured patient. one must remember that these stem cells that have been harvested are not produced by (endogenous to) the patient (host). There fore, these cells may or may not be compatible with the host, and may not provide the desired benefits.

Recently, however, there was a study out of Penn State indicating that there is a direct link between hyperbaric oxygen treatments and the body's endogenous production of stem cell in our bone marrow. Apparently, our bodies never lose the ability to produce stem cells in our bone marrow, however this process remains fairly dormant in adulthood. Even in adulthood, stem cells exist in our bone marrow, but are not seen to any significant degree throughout the body. in response to injury, these stem cells move from the bone marrow to the injured site where they will turn into cells that assist in the healing process. Patients who were exposed to hyperbaric oxygen therapy showed an eight fold increase in the number of stem cells circulating throughout their body. The study indicated that "hyperbaric oxygen treatments mobilize these stem cells because the treatment increases synthesis of a molecule call nitric oxide. The synthesis of this molecule appears to trigger enzymes that stimulate stem cell release from the bone marrow into the body's circulatory system." Stephen Thom, MD, PhD, who headed up the study stated "this is the safest way clinically to increase stem cell circulation, far safer than any of the pharmaceutical options."

Here at our office in Elko, we have been providing hyperbaric oxygen treatments for approximately 10 years, on hundreds of patients. We have seen improvement in patients with neurological injuries and disorders such as stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, et. When we contacted these patients month and even years after their hyperbaric oxygen treatments, many had still maintained the gains they had achieved while undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatment. The improvements that we had seen while the patients were undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatments were easily explained through the introduction of the additional oxygen in the body. However, the increased oxygen generated during the hyperbaric oxygen treatments did not seem to fully explain why the patients did so well months or even years after receiving their treatments. The Penn State study offers an explanation for this long-term benefit, through stem cell stimulation/mobilization. It would appear that these long-term benefits were the result of the body's increases production of stem cells. The stem cells traveled to the area of injury and repaired tissue damage by turning into the cell type of the damaged tissues whether they were muscle, ligament, or nerve.

Upon conclusion of the study, Dr. Stephen Thom stated, "Hopefully, future study of hyperbaric oxygen's role in mobilizing stem cells will provide a wide array of treatments for combating injury and disease."