Considering Stem Cell Treatments for an Orthopedic Injury?

Here is What You Should Know

In the late 1990’s we began hearing that stem cells could potentially “cure” diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s, paralysis and cancer. However, once the public learned that these claims were mostly false and that the stem cells being used were coming from human fetuses, the federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was cut drastically and these treatments lost favor with much of the American public.

Now, newer versions of stem cell treatments seem to be making a comeback and patients all over America are interested in seeing if these treatments may be able to help them. At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our Regenerative Medicine team has spent years researching and training in the use of Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentrate (BMAC) stem cells for orthopedic injuries.

Because these treatments are not yet covered by insurance, it has led to some unscrupulous claims from medical practices and clinics trying to get patients to pay cash for these “miracle treatments”. If you are exploring stem cell treatments for an orthopedic condition, here are some things you should know.

Stem Cell Advertisement Claims

Many patients will often see advertisements in local newspapers, magazine and online from clinics stating that stem cells can help you “avoid invasive surgery” for conditions like knee and hip arthritis and sports injuries. They may also invite you to a local seminar to learn about these treatments.

While stem cells do have the potential to treat orthopedic injuries, you should first know what you are being offered and whether there is any science behind it.

The two most commonly used types of stem cells are explained below.

Amniotic Stem Cell Treatments

Amniotic stem cells come from what are known as “products of conception” and may have different names like Wharton’s jelly, amniotic fluid or umbilical cord cells. As a whole, these are the cells taken after the birth of a child and then frozen for future use. It is important to note that these cells come from a donor and are not your own cells.

These are the types of cells most often used by “stem cell clinics” as they are cheap and do not require specific training, licensing or surgical procedures to administer the cells.

What the research has shown over the years is that these amniotic cells are not effective in treating orthopedic injuries or other chronic conditions. The reason these treatments are not effective comes down to two main causes:

The handling of the cells. Once these cells are collected after childbirth they are immediately sent to a lab where the cells are separated, packaged and then flash frozen in a cryogenic chamber. When a clinic needs these cells, they are transported to the clinic where they are then flash thawed so that they can be injected into a joint or other areas of the body.

Due to this process, studies have shown that few of the cells actually survive the freezing, transporting and thawing process. But there is a bigger issue than that.

These are not your own cells. Regardless of the viability of the amniotic cells being used at a clinic, it seems trivial when compared with the fact that they will have little to no effect because they are not your own cells.

Stem cell replication is complex but it all has to do with your body’s own blank cells (autologous stem cells) and their ability to replicate into the cells surrounding them. When you inject someone else’s cells into a bone or joint, your body often sees these cells as invaders as does what it is programmed to do, which use your immune system to attack these cells. This is known as “rejection”.

When you utilize your body’s own naturally occurring stem cells, there is almost no chance of rejection.

Recently, due to the misleading nature in which these treatments are marketed to patients, the FDA and other government agencies have either shut down clinics using these cells or have fined them for false advertising.

Autologous BMAC Stem Cell Treatments

Autologous BMAC stem cells are those that are taken directly from your body and have shown to be effective in treating certain orthopedic conditions such as osteoarthritis and sports injuries.

How cells are taken. In the early years of our lives, we have a wealth of stem cells available in our body as our bones, joints, ligaments and other structures are forming. As we age, our body will stop producing as many stem cells as it used to. However, even as we age the bone marrow in the iliac crest usually contains a large number of viable stem cells.

At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our Regenerative Medicine team utilizes and advance the process that starts with the harvesting of viable stem cells from the iliac bone in the pelvis. These cells are then injected into the area of injury in the hopes that they will promote healing and potentially replicate the cells of the injured ligament, tendon, cartilage etc. It is this replication of the cells around them, combined with being your own cells, that has shown to be effective for orthopedic conditions.

Finding the Right Stem Cell Treatment Specialists

Like with any new and exciting treatment, there can be a lot of misinformation and exaggerations. If you are interested in stem cell treatments, you should research the physician’s credentials, experience training and exactly what types of stem cells they are utilizing.

At Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, our Regenerative Medicine team members are Board Certified in Sports Medicine and use only BMAC stem cell therapies. They have undergone extensive training and research in these modalities and utilize an individual approach for each patient.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to see if BMAC stem cell treatments may be right for you.

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