How Do Stem Cells Repair The Body? with Dr. Todd Ovokaitys

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Many of us have heard of stem cell therapy and are aware of its implications for human potential, but do you know how stem cell therapy actually works? In the second episode of a series with stem cell researcher Dr. Todd Ovokaitys, he and the Amens discuss the role stem cells play in human body function and repair, and why they’re so important to the future of healing processes.

For more on Dr. Todd Ovokaitys, visit his page at:

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Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel. Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to

Welcome back. We are having such a good time with Dr. Todd Ovokaitys, but for short, we’re calling him Dr. Todd O. or Dr. Todd, just to make it easy. But this is a really smart guy, went to Johns Hopkins, was thinking about DNA in the eighth grade when I know most eighth graders are thinking about boys or girls, I have girls, so I’m thinking about boys. And you were thinking about DNA, and I just find that fascinating. So we’re having such a good time. Please post your questions, what you’ve learned. We’d love to answer your questions. So go to You can leave that there. You can also leave us a review. We would be grateful, and we would enter you into a drawing for one of our books, either my book, the Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook or Daniel’s book, The End of Mental Illness.

And welcome back, Dr. Todd. We’re just having such a good time. And we’re going to talk about, basically in this episode, we’re going to continue with STEM cells, the laser guided STEM cells, and what you were talking about earlier, how they differentiate, why you’re using the process that you use. And I’m really interested in this sound, what you were talking about with the sound and making them, please repeat that. I don’t want to mess it up. What you were repeating about-

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      How making the STEM cells go where you want them to go specifically.

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Right. In essence, to be poetic, we are singing the song of STEM cell in light. We convert the light wave patterns from the laser into a sound wave, light wave form. So it starts with light, but it has sound like characteristics, so it’s called photo acoustic. So we start with light. We sing the song of the STEM cells in light, and they’re literally hearing the vibrational pattern that resonates with their surface molecular structure.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:          So fascinating. Let’s back up, and just really help people understand the basics of STEM cells and what they need to know. I often say the hippocampus is a very special structure in the brain because it produces about, at least this is what I’ve been told, 700 new baby STEM cells every day. The hippocampus is Greek for seahorse because it looks like a seahorse. And so I think of them as 700 new babies, seahorses, every day and the environment you put them in can either grow them or can murder them. And this is how I got Miley Cyrus to stop smoking pot, because I’m like, “You’re just murdering these.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And she’s an animal rights activist.

Daniel Amen, MD:          She’s an animal rights activist. And she’s like, “That’s so unfair.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      That’s so funny.

Daniel Amen, MD:          But let’s just talk about the basics to get people to understand this area of medicine and how exciting it can be.

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Absolutely, my pleasure. And to do a full discussion of all the types of STEM cells in the body that could be a whole weekend seminar unto itself, even to describe what they are and how they work. I’ll give the basic architecture of it because it’s really interesting. And it also helps to understand what type of STEM cells to use for a given indication or purpose. The biggest, buzz I’d say, the biggest mystique and challenge and concerns in the media have been raised about so-called embryonic STEM cells.

And that’s where we begin. So in essence, we start with a single cell, and that cell multiplies a number of times at a very early stage which is called the blastocyst. And at that level, if you take any one of those cells, that are true embryonic STEM cells, it can make a whole new person. So a true embryonic STEM cell is given the name totipotent, which means it can make an entire new organism. Now these are the most powerful, but they’re also the only type of STEM cell that has no potential medical complications, and the complication that can occur, and it’s often seen in animal models, is a benign tumor called a teratoma. A teratoma is a mass that has all different types of tissues of the body. So imagine someone getting a cantaloupe sized giant hairball with teeth and skin and nails and muscles and liver and all that weird stuff in it, it’s just not very attractive.

So for that reason, and I think appropriately so, there’s been a restriction on the use of embryonic STEM cells therapeutically until that medical hazard can be overcome. And that it’s appropriate to go to the next step. So right past totipotent, it’s called pluripotent, that’s the name that Dr. Amen used a little earlier. So a pluripotential STEM cell has the attribute that it can become any of the cells of the three primary germ layers. So as you recall, after the blastocyst stage, you get the separation of the three germ layers, the ectoderm, which comes the nervous system and skin, the mesoderm, which is muscles and bones and tendons and cartilage and such, and then the endoderm, which is largely the digestive tract, liver and intestines and pancreas and such. So a pluripotential STEM cell can move into any of the three germ layers, and thence become any of the types of cells of the body. So the advantage of a true pluripotential STEM cell is that it literally can replace any of the 200 plus types of cells in the body.

And then past pluripotential, you get into my dedicated cell lines that tend to differentiate along that pathway. So there’s a lot of work now with mesenchymal STEM cells. And those are often derived from fat. Those are the types of cells usually used with umbilical cord blood. Those are also the main type of cell used when bone marrow is used as a source of cells. Now, mesenchymal STEM cells, they’re from the mesoderm, so they tend to want to become tissue of that type. So they want to become bone and cartilage and tendon and muscle. So if someone has a bad joint, that is a reasonably good choice to say remove from fat, separate the STEM cells, inject them into the joint, and then you have the right type of germline cell in the right type of tissue to get a desired repair.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And so you mentioned before that you have the potential of rejecting it, obviously if it’s not a perfect tissue match.

Daniel Amen, MD:          So if it’s from someone else.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Right. If it’s from someone else.

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      So is it more common these days? I mean, you mentioned the complications with embryonic STEM cells. So is it more common these days, I believe you called it allogenic, is that’s where you take it from.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Autogenic.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Autogenic, where you take it from the person, are you taking their own STEM cells or you’re taking their own tissue and doing what to treat?

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Right. So autologous is the phrase if it’s that person’s cells. Allogeneic is if it comes from somebody else.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Got it. Okay.

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        And the current regulations in the US really support autologous STEM cells. And there is a whole series of definitions around what’s considered to be the safe use of them, particularly that they are processed and delivered back within four hours and that the cells aren’t significantly expanded or otherwise manipulated.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And you said if you want, so for example, when I got my shoulder done, he got STEM cells out of my fat. Hopefully there wasn’t that much, and then spun them down, waited for a little bit, and then injected them into me, and then we stored them. And so they’ve been growing for four or five years, so now we have a gazillion of them, but is that more likely to then help support joint health, and not so much as far as skin and brain health?

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        Correct. The mesenchymal-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And can they grow them or are they just freezing them and preserving them?

Daniel Amen, MD:          No, they can grow them, is my understanding.

Dr. Todd Ovokaitys:        They can grow them. And that would just be a question for the technicians at the lab. In other words, once they harvest it and purify them, did they subject them through some cycles of expansion where they tend to be grown to confluence in the discs, in the flasks. And then when they go to confluence, then they will say, “Take that and put that in 10 more flasks and grow them out.” So there can be so-called number of passages of the cells to get a bigger number of them, because sometimes part of the therapeutic aspect is what is the actual number of therapeutic cells that are delivered? And that gets into another set of technical issues, because in my own experience, I’ve found that low passaged cells when they are expanded, tend to be effective, and anti-inflammatory, but if they’re passaged too many times, this is what with cord blood STEM cells, I’ve seen them shift from being anti-inflammatory to pro-inflammatory.

So there is some art and science around how the cells are expanded, how many times their passaged, how much the expansion factor is, and so forth. And then ultimately, what type of tissue that they will be used for.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And in your experience, and when we do the next podcast, we can talk about it more, we only have another couple of minutes, is when should people think about using STEM cell therapies? And there are people selling them for all sorts of things, autism, Alzheimer’s disease. I actually did a really interesting project where I worked with the group that did omental transposition. So the omentum, which is the fatty apron that overlays the abdomen and your liver and pancreas and intestines is loaded, from what I understand, with STEM cells. And so our researchers actually took the omentum, kept it attached to its blood supply, and transposed it onto the brain, hoping that the brain would get more, I suppose, it’s not meselchymal STEM cells, but a different kind of STEM cell that comes from the intestine. And I did the before and after imaging with that, and we saw significant increased blood flow with that procedure. It’s a wild procedure, and it’s never going to become standard because it’s way too hard to do, but it was the first attempt to get STEM cells directly into the brain.

I then worked with a neurosurgeon at Hoag Hospital here in Newport Beach, where he put a port into ventricles in the brain and they gave them in the brain STEM cells, and showed some significant improvement. Chris Duma was doing that, but I would just, we have to do it when we come back, is where do you think the state of the art for the practical application of STEM cells, where do you think it is? And how has your innovation of using photo acoustic, I just love that, just imagining.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      It’s so interesting.

Daniel Amen, MD:          -the light and sound.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      That’s just fascinating that you can convert that.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Singing.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Sort of singing the right tune.

Daniel Amen, MD:          For STEM cell.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      [crosstalk [00:13:31] all into the right place.

Daniel Amen, MD:          So stay with us. We’re with Dr. Ovokaitys and you can find out more about his work, at Just fascinating already. He and I are working on a very special patient together, and I sent him someone very important to us personally. So we’re really excited about this technology.

Whatever you learned, write it down, post it on any of social media sites, go to Brain, leave us a comment, question or review. We are grateful you are with us, but come back for the practical application of STEM cells.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode. And while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

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