Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to many questions people have about stem cell therapy at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama. If you have questions that are not answered here or elsewhere on our web site, please feel free to contact us today. We’ll be happy to answer them promptly!

Which diseases do you treat?

Due to restrictions imposed by US online advertising companies, we cannot claim to treat specific diseases on this web site. To find out if you qualify for treatment, we encourage you to complete our online medical history. Once you have submitted this information, a representative will contact you and our doctors will review it. It is not uncommon for them to request additional medical records after this review. This process usually takes no longer than 5 working days.

Why does this web site not publish any information about treatment success, including patient testimonials?

Again, due to restrictions imposed by US online advertising companies, we cannot make any medical claims and we cannot publish patient testimonials. It is important to understand that stem cell therapy is not a cure for any disease and that there are patients who do not respond to treatment. That being said, if you are approved for treatment and would like to talk with several already-treated patients, we can arrange it. (see FDA Information)

Which kinds of stem cells are used in Stem Cell Institute treatments?

The primary cells types leveraged for stem cell therapy at the Stem Cell Institute are:

  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells – ideally suited for treating systemic autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. They also play a significant role in regenerating injured tissue.
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells – best suited for tissue regeneration due to the synergistic effect of CD34+ cells’ revascularization characteristics in concert with the tissue repairing function of the mesenchymal stem cells
  • T-regulatory cells – play a role in immune system modulation

Where do these stem cells come from?

The Stem Cell Institute utilizes adult stem cells derived from:

  • Human Umbilical Cord Tissue – a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
  • Bone Marrow – a good source of CD34+ stem cells (but a poor source of mesenchymal stem cells).
  • Adipose Tissue (fat cells) – source of mesenchymal stem cells and an abundant source of T-regulatory cells.

We are not limited to using a single type of stem cell. We have umbilical cord, bone marrow and fat sources at our disposal, including the ability to expand cells into larger numbers at or lab when indicated.

How do mesenchymal stem cells work?

Essentially, stem cells are progenitor cells which are capable of regeneration and differentiation into a wide range of specialized cell types. Once injected, stem cells follow inflammatory signals from damaged tissues and have multiple ways of repairing these damaged areas.

To review scientific articles, please see: Mesenchymal stem cells and inflammation, Differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells, and Mesenchymal stem cells and tissue repair.

Are there ethical issues involving these types of stem cell therapy?

Adult stem cells are not encompassed by the controversy surrounding fetal and embryonic stem cells. Both the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church have issued papers which actually encourage research and the use of adult stem cells in the treatment of human disease, as an ethically acceptable alternative to the use of the ethically challenged fetal and embryonic stem cells.

We do not use embryonic or fetal stem cells. Because human umbilical cord-derived stem cells are collected post-natal, they are considered to be “adult” stem cells. Umbilical cord-derived stem cells are NOT embyronic or fetal stem cells.

How are the stem cells collected?

Bone marrow and adipose tissue are collected from the patient in a hospital setting under light general anesthesia. These procedures are minimally invasive and done on an out-patient basis.

  • Adipose tissue collection – Each patient’s own fat tissue is collected by a licensed plastic surgeon via mini-liposuction. The procedure typically take about an hour.
  • Bone marrow collection – Each patient’s bone marrow is collected by an experienced hematologist with an anesthesiologist. The bone marrow is drawn into syringes that are inserted through the skin on the back and into the hip bones. Bone marrow collection typically takes about 1.5 hours.
  • Umbilical cord tissue collection – We receive cord donations from healthy women in Panama after normal, healthy births. Our donors sign a consent form, fill out a detailed medical questionnaire, and give a blood sample. The mothers’ blood and the cord blood undergo extensive testing for HIV, STD’s, hepatitis, etc.

How are the stem cells processed at the laboratory?

Medistem Panama operates an 8000 sq. ft. Panama Ministry of Health-licensed laboratory that features 3 class 10000 clean rooms, 8 class 100 laminar flow hoods, and 12 class 100 incubators. It was founded by Neil Riordan, PhD.

Guided tours of our lab facilities are arranged upon request.

Why do adipose- (fat) derived stem cell treatments take more than one week?

Intravenously administered adipose-derived stem cells will tend to migrate back to the fresh wound site if it is not given an adequate time to heal. Therefore, it is essential to allow about one week after the mini-liposuction before administering any stem cells intravenously. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood that the treatment will not be as effective.

Additionally, it takes 5 five days to thoroughly test the adipose cell samples for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. In order to ensure that no patient receives an infected sample, at least 5 days must transpire before the cells can be confirmed safe and injected back into the patient. Endotoxin testing must also be performed.

Lastly, this 5-day waiting period enables our scientists to culture a small sample of each patient’s stem cells in the lab to observe how they are likely to proliferate once they are inside the body. If a patient’s cells show low viability, our doctors will supplement the treatment with additional cord-derived cells to compensate. The same can be done in cases of low cell yield.

How long does treatment typically take?

Recommended protocols can take from 3 days to one month. They include from between 3 to 16 separate injections of stem cells. The most commonly recommended protocols include 3 – 5 separate injections given over the course of 3 – 5 days.

Will I be prescribed any drugs?

The doctors will not prescribe any medication as a part of your treatment. However, they do advise a circulating stem cell enhancing supplement (Stem-kine) regime following treatment.

Does smoking or drinking affect the therapy?

Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking can both be detrimental to new progenitor stem cells. It is highly advisable that people do not smoke or drink during their treatment.

Are there any side effects?

Generally speaking, aside from the initial pain at the injection site, the patient will not experience any discomfort. Less than 10% of (mostly lumbar puncture) patients have developed a minor fever, headache, nausea or vomiting. However, these side effects have never lasted more than three days and usually resolve within 24 hours. No long term negative side effects have been reported.

Our protocols have not been evaluated by the US FDA regarding safety. Therefore, we cannot claim that any stem cell therapy we provide is “safe”. There could be significant and unknown risks associated with adult stem cell treatments, as long-term studies have not been performed. Very few, randomized clinical trials of adult stem cells have been performed, therefore no guarantee of safety or effectiveness is made or implied.

How much does this treatment cost?

Treatment cost depends on the type of treatment required and will be discussed with you following patient application and diagnosis. The cost of treatment includes the treatment itself, medical examinations and tests, airport pick-up and transport between your hotel and the clinic.

Will my insurance cover the cost of treatment?

Insurance companies do not cover adult stem cell therapy.

Is physical therapy or rehabilitation available?

Yes. According each patient’s needs, physical therapy will be recommended by our medical team and provided during the course of treatment.

What are the hospitals like?

We conduct out-patient mini-liposuction procedures at private hospitals such as Punta Pacifica, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins in the US.

Here is an excerpt about Panama’s health care services from Expat Focus:

“…Many of the hospitals and clinics are new and have good, modern facilities. Most of the medical staff in Panama are trained in other countries such as the US so they are aware of all the latest developments and technologies. When compared with other countries, the standard of healthcare is considered to be high. Full care is offered at the hospitals.

Private hospitals such as the Hospital Punta Pacifica have some of the best facilities. This particular hospital is affiliated to Johns Hopkins, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the US. Several hospitals in the country have connections to US institutions, which ensures that they have the best facilities and highly trained staff…”Read the entire article…

What is Panama like?

Panama City is arguably the most developed city in Central America, due in part to the large American military presence here since the building of the Panama Canal. The picturesque view of Panama City is filled with skyscrapers, apartments, world-class hotels and restaurants.

Panama has been voted one of the top 5 places for retirement 8 years running by International Living Magazine. It was also voted the American Capital of Culture in 2003 by the American Capital of Culture Organization.

How long will it take to get an appointment?

Once our medical team has received the medical application and all other requested medical records, it usually takes about 5 working days to review everything. As soon as the review is complete, we’ll contact you to discuss available treatment options.

Once approved, a patient is scheduled for the earliest available appointment that is convenient for him or her.
This entire process usually takes 2 to 3 weeks from initial contact to appointment scheduling.

How do I apply to become a patient?

To start your evaluation, please complete our online medical history form. As soon as we receive it, a representative will contact you. Medical histories are reviewed by our physicians and are usually completed within 5 working days of submission.