Stem Cell Treatments
You may have heard about stem cell treatments for all sorts of medical conditions. We are here to help you sort through what is fact vs. fiction. There is definitely a lot of hype, but some of the treatments do appear promising.
What are stem cells?
A stem cell is a type of cell within your body that is able to transform into another type of cell. This is helpful for repairing injured areas in the body.
There are two basic types.
One is called a Hemopoetic stem cell. These cells are in your bone marrow and make blood cells. Examples of these cells are red blood cells which carry oxygen and white blood cells which fight infection. Platelets are cell fragments which help your blood clot when you bleed.
The second type of stem cell, which is more important in joints, tendons, ligaments and the spine, is called a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC for short).
Stem cells can transform into other types of cells and act as signalers to instruct other healing cells to behave in a certain way. For instance, we have good science from lab studies that stem cells help other cells from a disc in the spine to heal and potentially create new cells.
How do you acquire stem cells?
Multiple tissues have an abundance of stem cells such as fat and bone marrow. Stem cells can be removed from the body and cultured in the lab to obtain millions of these stem cells, but the FDA does not allow physicians to remove stem cells, culture them, and reinject them into your body.
Culturing of these cells is only permitted in rare circumstances, such as research studies involving investigational new drugs.
We are allowed, however, to concentrate your stem cells in a centrifuge and reinject this concentrate into a painful joint, tendon, or spine. Currently, the FDA only permits concentration from your bone marrow. Other sources of stem cells such as fat, require processing which is against FDA regulation.
Do they work?
We have high hopes for these stem cell treatments and we are seeing encouraging results with many of our patients. However, quality research studies are required before we will know if these treatments are truly effective.