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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Sponsor: Institute of Spinal Cord Injury, Iceland


Only recently emerging on our healing horizon, experts predict that stem cells will become the body’s therapeutic miracle workers, regenerating tissues and organs damaged by disease, trauma, or aging. Once thought to be relatively rare or present only in unique tissues, these cells have a ubiquitous presence and regenerative role throughout the body, and may represent a common-denominator mechanism by which many therapies mediate their healing effects.

Because pulling together seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle catalyzes progress, this discussion summarizes the influence of various adjunct therapies on stem-cell expression. Conceivably, some could augment the effectiveness of the many stem-cell programs emerging throughout the world discussed elsewhere on this site.

Stem-cell transplantation procedures and results vary substantially between programs.  Cells from numerous sources (e.g., blood, bone marrow, olfactory tissue, fetal tissue, etc) have been transplanted via several routes, including into the spinal cord or fluid, intravenously, or intramuscularly. Donor cells are not selected based on the theoretical best source or regenerative potential but their isolation ease, such as concentrating blood stem cells. Likewise, it’s a lot easier and safer but perhaps not as effective to inject cells into a muscle, blood, or spinal fluid than surgically accessing the spinal cord.

In addition, endogenous stem cells may play a healing role in acute injury. For example, Drs. Charles Tator and A.J. Mothe (Neuroscience 131, 2005) have carried out studies in rats suggesting that that injury itself mobilizes dormant spinal-cord stem-cells into action. Perhaps, some of the therapies discussed below could amplify this healing response.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that a life-force energy qi permeates all living things through meridian channels punctuated by acupuncture points. As a rough analogy, view the meridians as a pipeline through which the energy flows, the acupuncture points as periodically placed, flow-controlling valves, and the acupuncture needles as the socket wrench that opens the valves. Stimulating these points can promote health- and regeneration-enhancing qi flow.

In his book “Life Force, The Scientific Basis,” physicist Dr. Claude Swanson reviews the science that supports this ancient healing tradition. For example, studies have shown that acupuncture points and meridians do, indeed, have anatomical and physiological correlates. For example, acupuncture points correspond to small (~ 1 mm) skin areas of greatly reduced electrical resistance. The meridian pathways closely match up to “Bonghan ducts,” which contain an abundance of biophoton-emitting DNA (perhaps one reflection of qi energy). Swanson states that a key component contained within these ducts “may be undifferentiated cells (adult stem cells) which flow to regions of growth and injury where they specialize into the needed type of cell, and provide the building blocks for tissue repair.”

As discussed elsewhere, studies indicate that acupuncture may restore some function after SCI through a variety of physiological mechanisms. Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that acupuncture influences stem-cell expression in animal models of several neurological disorders, including SCI:

Based on studies in rats with completely transected spinal cord, Dr Y. Ding and colleagues concluded that electroacupuncture promotes the survival and differentiation of transplanted stem cells. Stem-cell transplantation combined with electroacupuncture “could promote axonal regeneration and partial locomotor recovery in the transected spinal cord in rats and indicate a promising avenue of spinal cord injury” treatment.

The same investigators concluded that 1) electroacupuncture promotes the differentiation of stem cells and regeneration of nerve fibers in the injured spinal cord through the induction of neural growth factors, and 2) the combination of electroacupuncture and stem-cell transplantation can improve partial function of paralyzed hind limbs.

Dr. Z. Sun et al demonstrated that treatment with electroacupuncture combined with bone-marrow-derived stem-cell transplantation restored more function than either treatment by itself. The investigators attributed this improved outcome to the enhanced differentiation of the transplanted bone marrow-derived stem-cells into neuronal stem cells.

According to Harvard University’s Dr. Charles Shang, the acupuncture system and stem cells are closely linked through an “organizing center network” composed of under-differentiated, electromagnetically sensitive cells. This network is created early in embryogenesis before the formation of other body systems (e.g., spinal cord) and has the potential to influence these later-formed systems throughout life. Under this model, acupuncture has extensive growth-control effects and can trigger network stem cells into action. 

As a crude analogy, view the acupuncture-sensitive “organizing center network” as a behind-the-lines’ general ready to send in “green” reserve troops (i.e., stem cells) who will evolve into the front-line combatants replacing those who have fallen from the attacks of disease, trauma, and aging. In the case of transplanted stem cells, Shang speculates that they can be recruited into a new network for repair and regeneration.


Evidence indicates that laser therapy promotes functional recovery after SCI. For example, Dr. Kimberly Byrnes et al (Washington, DC) demonstrated that laser energy alters gene expression in rats with SCI and in cells being transplanted into the injured cord. Dr. Semion Rochkind (Israel) also has shown that functional recovery in rats with SCI was maximized when embryonic cell transplantation was followed with laser irradiation.

This research is particularly relevant because individuals with SCI have attempted to maximize restored function after stem-cell transplantation using laser-based therapy, especially with the Laserpuncture program developed by France’s Albert Bohbot.  Dr. Emilio Jacques (Mexico) has also used laser and acupuncture therapy after transplanting stem cells into the injury site.

Bohbot has treated numerous individuals with SCI, who have been the transplantation recipients of a variety of cell types from different programs throughout the world. In a recent article, Bohbot evaluated the impact of Laserpuncture on electromyographic parameters of three individuals with SCI who underwent OEC transplantation. Results suggested that the Laserpuncture/cell-transplantation-combination therapy restored some voluntary muscle activity.

Hyperbaric Oxygen

With hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy, patients are put in chambers pressurized at 2-3 atmospheres containing up to 100% oxygen. Studies suggest that HBO is beneficial for treating a variety of neurological disorders in which blood-flow-related oxygenation is compromised, including acute and perhaps chronic SCI. The premise is that HBO will force oxygen into injured oxygen-deprived CNS tissue. Numerous animal studies suggest that HBO influences the expression of stem cells, including 1) promoting differentiation and proliferation into neurons, 2) enhancing migration to areas of injury, 3) suppressing stem-cell apoptosis, and 4) inducing stem-cell growth factors Dr. Stephen Thom et al (USA) has shown that HBO stimulates the bone-marrow production of stem cells. Specifically, stem cells doubled in the circulation of humans after a single two-hour, two-atmosphere HBO session, and after 20 treatments, increased eight-fold.

Omental Surgery

Dr. Harry Goldsmith (Reno, Nevada) has developed surgical procedures for various CNS disorders that use the omentum, a physiologically dynamic tissue that hangs like an apron over the intestines and lower abdomen area (insert link). For SCI, the omentum is surgically tailored to create a pedicle of sufficient length and intact circulation so it can be attached to the cord’s injury site (like cutting a square handkerchief into a long necktie). Dr. Ignacio García-Gómez et al (Spain) have shown that human omentum contains stem cells, which synthesize key, blood-flow-enhancing growth factors when transplanted.

Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)

EMF reduces neurological damage after acute SCI. For example, Dr. Wise Young (Piscataway, NJ) reported that the majority of EMF-treated cats with SCI were walking four months after injury compared to none in the control group (insert link). Pilot studies (Poland) suggested that EMF greatly improved neurological outcomes in patients with acute SCI (insert link). Based on these possibilities, several patients who have had stem-cell-containing tissue implanted into their injured cord followed the procedure with EMF therapy.

Research indicates that EMF influences stem-cell proliferation and differentiation. For example, NASA scientists have shown that a time-varying electromagnetic field can “control the proliferative rate, directional attitude, and molecular genetic expression of normal human neural progenitor cells…”  In another example, Dr. N. Nakamichi and colleagues (Japan) have demonstrated that “sustained static magnetism could suppress proliferation for self renewal and facilitate differentiation into neurons” through turning on certain genes by progenitor cells in fetal rat brain.”  More simply stated, this research suggests that EMF has the potential to be the steering wheel directing the stem or progenitor cells to the desired endpoint.

Herbal Medicine

As discussed elsewhwere, several traditional-Chinese-medicine and Ayurvedic herbs possess neuroprotective potential, including Ginkgo biloba, Buyang Huanwu Decoction, Chinese skullcap, Ashwagandha, and Mimosa pudica. Research suggests that several commonly consumed herbal supplements stimulate stem cells. For example, 1) consuming blue-green algae increases the number of stem cells released from the bone marrow into the blood by 25-30% for several hours; 2) ginseng stimulates proliferation of brain stem cells involved in memory; and 3) Buyang Huanwu Decoction enhances the outgrowth and differentiation of neurites on neuronal stem cells.


A little-known therapy, inert-gas treatment builds up the electromagnetic energy fields possessed by all living things, thereby enhancing regenerative potential. Because transplantable stem-cells are living and possess energy fields, some suggest that exposing them to inert-gas energy while in culture will beef-up their physiological robustness and viability before transplantation.

Physical Rehabilitation

Dr Carlos Lima and colleagues (Portugal) have shown that functional improvements after the transplantation of stem-cell-containing olfactory tissue into the injured spinal cord are dependent on the nature of post-transplantation physical rehabilitation. Rehabilitation was undertaken at three centers - one center using robotic bodyweight-supported treadmill training, and the other two using assisted over-ground-walking training with weight bearing on the hips and feet to promote sensory and muscle-movement feedback. Results indicated that the latter approach was much more effective in promoting functional improvement after transplantation.


As described later, hypothermic cooling has been employed in an attempt to preserve neurological function after injury. Preliminary evidence from animal studies suggests that such cooling may augment the effectiveness of stem-cell transplantation. Specifically, rats whose spinal cords were cut in half were divided into three groups: 1) untreated controls, 2) rats treated with bone-marrow-derived stem cells, and 3) stem-cell- and hypothermic-treated rats. The rats in the third group recovered the most function and had the most tissue preservation.


Psychoneuroimmunology is a highfalutin scientific term to describe how our emotions, attitudes, and consciousness influence health. From a holistic mind-body-spirit view, the most powerful healing comes from adopting a health-enhancing consciousness, whose overarching influence transforms the physical. Long before stem cells became a blip on modern science’s radar, the influence of consciousness on their expression was discussed in the Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East (Baird Spalding):

1) “As the cell divides and creates a new cell, our thought is implanted upon it…In the first cell, all is perfect. That cell was first known as the Christ cell.” (i.e., the anointed cell)  “It is always just as young as ever it was. It never takes on old age. It is the primal spark of life. When we implant in it our thoughts of limitation or old age, or any condition outside of perfection, the body responds. Cells born from the first cell take on its image. Originally it is the image and likeness of God. It is perfect in every way. But it becomes the form we carry in our minds…if we carry the image of perfection always, what will it do for these cells? It will build perfection.” (Vol. 6, Page 78)

2) “The moment a cell divides itself from the parent cell, and the instant before it divides itself, it takes on the exact image of the parent. As it goes out, it comes under the influence of this imperfection that we think for ourselves. What happens? We see the vibrations of the cell lowered, and in some instances when it attaches itself to the organ where it belongs, it is a dead thing…The very thought influence of imperfection influences that cell until it dies. The vibrations go so low that the dynamic influence flows out.” (Vol. 6, Page 92)

Scientists have proposed many physiological mechanisms by which emotions, attitudes, and overall consciousness can potentially transform our health and influence stem cells. For example, Dr. Bruce Lipton hypothesizes that our consciousness affects DNA expression through influencing proteins embedded in our cell membranes. 

As shown in Menninger Clinic experiments, individuals are able to shift consciousness in a way that can alter the body’s electromagnetic dynamics. Lipton hypothesizes that this alteration changes the physical configuration of membrane proteins, in turn, affecting communication between the outside and inside of cells. Roughly speaking, this consciousness-driven energy is like a radio signal triggering the garage door to open. This opening initiates a cascade of physiological events which regulate gene expression and, in turn, cell fate, potentially in a life-enhancing direction.

Scientists, indeed, have shown that the subtlest of energies can affect stem-cell expression or viability. For example, these cells are exceptionally sensitive to cosmic radiation.

Chemotherapy: Stem-Cell Killer

Recent studies indicate that commonly used chemotherapy agents are more toxic to neuronal stem and progenitor cells than the cancer cells it targets (Dietrich J, et al. J Biol, 5(7), 2006). Due to this toxicity, chemotherapy is associated with many adverse, long-term neurological consequences. Given the incidence of cancer, it is estimated that more people suffer from chemotherapy-related neurological damage than many of the more widely recognized neurological disorders.


Many therapeutic modalities in our healing spectrum can synergistically work together to enhance health if we are open-minded enough to consider the possibilities. If, for example, the world’s most ancient healing tradition, acupuncture, can influence the most state-of-the-art therapy (i.e., stem cells), we should pay attention, or the promising therapeutic potential of this emerging technology may be compromised.

Although we only have a tip-of-the-iceberg understanding of them, stem cells will play an ever-growing role in our efforts to restore function after SCI. As our knowledge increases, ideally, we will be able to take advantage of various adjunct therapies to maximize the healing potential of both transplanted stem cells and those endogenously produced from within. From conception until death, they are the cells of renewal and regeneration through which our healing energies are mediated.