THE FUTURE OF REGENERATIVE MEDICINE: STEM CELL THERAPY Grant Hill, Bo Jackson and Penny Hardaway are the most well-known of examples whose careers were cut short due to injury. Hundreds of pro athletes have suffered the same fate and millions of high school and collegiate athletes are forced to retire due to repeat or catastrophic injury. Oftentimes, the required surgeries do the real damage. Rehab schedules, psychological effects and the absence of a full recovery force athletes into retirement. But what if the injury healed itself with nothing more than an IV injection? Stem cell therapy, or regenerative medicine, does just that. So why isn’t everyone team stem cells? It’s a complex issue. The treatments have been called the new age of medicine but also the catalyst for dishonesty. If you’re injured and seeking surgery alternatives, read on and make sure you have the information you need. Embryonic vs. Adult Stem CellsMany people correlate stem cells with controversy because of the debate over embryonic stem cells. But stem cells used for injury recovery are adult stem cells. These are taken directly from the patient’s bone marrow or fat, opposed to a human embryo. Adult stem cells are found throughout the body. When inserted into a damaged area, stem cells can replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues. Scientists, researchers and academics are fascinated by stem cells because they can self-generate any tissue within the body. They’re often referred to as “master” cells.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) vs. Stem Cell Therapy
These two treatments are sometimes grouped together but have some distinct differences. PRP injections start by separating blood platelets in a centrifuge, then re-injecting the blood into the affected area. PRP works to speed the healing process or give the body a boost during a long recovery.
Stem cell treatments go a bit further by actually healing an affected area that would not heal naturally without surgery. The process is also different. Stem cells are extracted from a patient’s blood marrow or fat tissue, instead of a blood transfusion
Both of these procedures have demonstrated amazing clinical results and have great potential. This article will focus on stem cells, athletes can learn more PRP here.
Stem Cell Treatment Success Stories
Learn the power of the treatment by reviewing the success stories.
Regenexx: Many success stories you’ll find are provided through Regenexx, which is a network of doctors who specialize in stem cell therapy, or advanced regenerative medicine. They have dozens of doctors nationwide and listings for China, India and Germany. Their procedure results are breathtaking and leave you wondering why regenerative medicine isn’t more widespread. However keep in mind that results are not guaranteed. Regenexx discuss two procedures on their website that didn’t have the best results. Here are a few that did.
- Meniscus Treatments Without Surgery – Matt, a professional CrossFit athlete, was diagnosed with meniscus tears in his knee. He was able to get stem cell injections without any form of surgery. He said his knees felt brand new two months later.
- Herniated Disc Treatment Without Surgery – Matt the CrossFitter suffered a back injury a few years later. He received fourth generation platelet lysate injections. Not only did the treatment work, Matt performed a 300-pound power clean and jerk a little over a month after the treatment.
- ACL Tear Repair Without Surgery – An ACL injury is one of the most devastating injuries in sports. Recovery from surgery often takes 12 months and multiple tears can end an athlete’s career. So it’s shocking to learn that Eddy, a middle-aged attorney, was able to repair a full ACL tear within 90 days of stem cell treatment. Not only did pain subside and normal knee function return, but the tear was completely gone from MRI scans.
Other stem cell clinics: Germany is popular destination for treatment. There, clinics are able to get approval from the European Medicines Agency, the European equivalent of the FDA.
For instance, Dr. Eckhard Alt’s Orthopedic Clinic Munich was able to correct a lifelong ailment.
- Lifelong Pain Cured – Stem cell treatments are not limited to athletic injuries. Bill Marlette lost his arm as a teenager. He continued to live his life, but the pain in his remaining arm and wrist became worse over the years. Simple actions like getting dressed were painful. Marlette traveled to Germany and received one treatment. Within weeks, his wrist felt better. And he reported continued improvement over the next seven months from just the single treatment.
Clinical trials & studies: Always strive to find clinical trials and studies when researching stem cell or any other type of procedure.
One such study was published in 2017.
- Living Bandages – University of Bristol and Liverpool researchers used stem cells to create a strip of tissue to treat meniscal tears in the knee. The cell bandage was implanted in seven patients for clinical study. One year after the procedure, five patients reported an intact meniscus. Then a fully intact meniscus a year later with normal knee function. The other two patients re-injured their knee so results couldn’t be determined.
Why are Stem Cell Treatments Not More Popular?
After reading the success stories, it seems like we should be going full steam ahead with regenerative medicine. Imagine how many athletes could add extra years to their career without debilitating surgery. Or how many dads could continue living an active and healthy lifestyle past the twilight of middle age. There are few reasons why stem cell therapy remains on the fringe of medicine standards.
- No FDA Approval – Not only are the vast majority of stem cell treatments not FDA approved (one exception), the agency recently decided to crack down on the growing industry. Warning letters were sent to clinics in California and Florida who offer treatments for Parkinson’s and ALS. However the FDA said that “a small number of unscrupulous actors” were exploiting the practice and did not condemn the treatment as whole. Regardless, the lack of FDA approval makes it harder for consumers to decide which doctors to trust. Widespread acceptance and growth of regenerative medicine will struggle without the FDA’s approval and regulations.
- Lack of Research and Understanding – The lack of research and clinical trials for stem cell treatments as compared to the established medical practices is largely why the FDA is unable to provide their seal of approval. Furthermore, doctors and researchers have not scientifically proven how stem cells regenerate injuries or fight diseases. We know that stem cells are able to become any type of cell type in the body, but the full picture of how healing occurs is yet to be determined.
- Ethical and Legal Issues – Adult stem cell treatments may not be as controversial as embryonic, but it is not free of similar ethical or legal issues. For instance, when celebrities such as NHL great Gordie Howe, are able to recover via stem cell treatment, the public and media celebrate the event, as they should to an extent. But many fail to acknowledge that the treatment is not scientifically proven. This opens the door for dishonest or unqualified clinics to capitalize on public sentiment. There’s also the question of where does it end? Treating Parkinson’s and other diseases is an exciting possibility, but can be dangerous without regulation or oversight. For instance, a wealthy person might do as much stem cell treatments as possible, with the hopes of maximizing fitness and health potential. But with unproven results, he may face health threats that we haven’t discovered yet.
Is Stem Cell Therapy Right for you?
The appetite for the treatment is increasing. According to Dr. Robin Smith, founder of the Stem for Life Foundation, there were 400 clinical trials for stem cells when she first started in 2007, there are 4,500 in 2017. In the past five years, the number of U.S. stem cell clinics has gone from from 25 to 570, according to the journal, Cell Stem Cell. Smith attributes the stem cell breakthroughs to the new era of medicine.
As we’re learned, more clinics doesn’t guarantee success or reduce risk. Consider the advice from the International Society of Stem Cell Research. The organization warns that even though the case studies provided by clinics can be spectacular, that doesn’t represent a safe and effective treatment. Know the difference between an experimental treatment and a clinical trial. Clinical trials build upon preclinical data and lab-based research. Clinical trials will often have oversight by a medical ethics committee. Lastly, patients should not be responsible for the cost of treatment and monitoring.
Once you know the risk and what to look for, do the research. Read reviews about clinics, ask about successes and failures, don’t let any doctor or clinic pressure you. Doctors should be transparent about the risks and acknowledge that there is no guarantee.
If you are able to find a safe and reliable procedure, the benefits can be miraculous.