Stem Cell Therapy
What Are Stem Cells & Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy consists of harvesting a patient’s own cells from fat tissue or bone marrow and using those cells to treat an area of injury. Stem cells have the potential to initiate a natural reparative process by communicating with other repair cells and create new healthy cells. Stem cell therapy offers a natural, minimally invasive treatment alternative to traditional surgery, often with less recovery time.
Stem cells are naturally occurring cells in the body but are different from other cell types because they are multipotent. This means that they can develop (“differentiate”) into a wide variety of other specialized cell types including muscle, tendon, and cartilage.
Stem cells are categorized as either embryonic (derived from a fetus) or as adult (found in the human body). Adult stem cells grow in abundance in bone marrow and fat, but can also be found in smaller quantities in most tissues.
Stem cells naturally release anti-inflammatory elements that help decrease inflammation and pain that occurs in damaged tissue. The injected stem cells may also signal existing cells in the injured tissue to activate and repair the damaged tissue. All of these functions work to decrease pain, increase joint function and potentially heal worn out or damaged cartilage.
Stem cells are critical to the body’s natural healing process. By harnessing their ability and targeting them to specific areas, they provide a promising treatment for a diverse range of injuries and conditions.
Stem cell therapy at a glance:
- Stem cell therapy is a minimally invasive procedure that has the potential to heal damaged tissue and initiate healthy cell growth.
- Stem cells occur naturally in the body and contain anti-inflammatory properties that can treat any condition that damages tissue, such as arthritis and torn cartilage.
- Patients typically require only one treatment to improve function and decrease pain in the damaged area and benefits may last years.
- Muir Orthopaedic Specialists physicians only utilize stem cell therapy approved under the US Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Stem Cell Therapy Procedure
While there are multiple storage sites for adult stem cells in the body, both fat and bone marrow have high concentration of cells which are easily accessible.
To obtain the cells from bone marrow, a physician will apply anesthesia to the area overlying the pelvic bone in the patient’s lower back before inserting a needle through the bone into the bone marrow to withdraw the cells. To obtain stem cells from fat, a physician will apply anesthesia over an area of concentrated fat such as the lower abdomen or thighs. Fat is then withdrawn using a liposuction type procedure. The samples are then prepared in a system that is specifically designed to purify and concentrate stem cells.
Once the cells are isolated, the area receiving the injections is then sterilized and anesthetized. Using ultrasound guidance to confirm accurate placement, the physician injects the stem cell solution into the damaged area of the body.
Recovery time is minimal and patients are able to return to daily activities often the next day.
Improvement in pain and function occurs as the tissue heals generally over a two to six months period. In most cases, only one treatment is needed to see the benefits. These improvements can typically last for years.
Stem Cell Therapy for Orthopedics
Due to their ability to help create new cells in existing healthy tissue, stems cells are used in a variety of therapies. Sports medicine physicians and orthopedic surgeons are primarily focusing on adult mesenchymal stem cells. These are multipotent cells that can differentiate into bone cells, muscle or cartilage cells.
Physicians are developing these orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, stem cell procedures to treat bone fractures and breaks, restore cartilage in arthritic joints, and heal ligaments and tendons. The restorative potential of stem cells has also created a flurry of research and clinical applications aimed at treating osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spinal cord injury.
Stem cell therapy can serve as a nonsurgical treatment alternative to many conditions, including:
- Cartilage tears
- Tendon scarring and tears
Each individual’s response to treatment is different, and complete pain relief or full functionality cannot be guaranteed. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of stem cell therapy in improving pain relief and increasing function after treatment. Various studies have demonstrated evidence of cartilage repair in both humans and animals, and many more studies are ongoing.
Stem Cell Therapy Considerations
Patients who have had stem cell therapy are advised to minimize excessive activity (specifically, prolonged weight-bearing and exercise) for two months after the procedure to allow healing to occur. In the case of arthritis, depending on the extent and location, doctors may recommend that the patient wear a brace for several months after the procedure.
Although stem cell treatment has been in practice for almost 10 years, most insurance companies still consider it experimental and do not cover treatments.
The main risks of stem cell therapy are the same as any minimally invasive procedure, including the risk of bleeding, infection, and some pain during and after the procedure. Working with a qualified physician can minimize these risks.