The Potential and Pitfalls of Stem Cell Injections
When it comes to stem cell therapy, it’s wise to be a bit wary. While stem cells can have enormous implications for treatment of injury and disease, many facilities offering stem cell injections are simply looking to capitalize on the buzz surrounding this therapy. If you’re considering stem cell injections for injuries, it’s essential that you learn everything you can about stem cell practices so you can identify the healing potential and possible scams.
This type of therapy involves repurposing self-renewing stem cells found naturally in your body by injecting them into damaged tissue. When you experience an injury, the body’s healing reaction sends undeveloped cells through the bloodstream to the injured area. When they arrive, they develop into repair cells as a response to their surroundings. The goal of stem cell injections is to expedite treatment of injury or disease by harnessing this natural capacity your body has for healing itself.
The procedure begins with stem cell harvesting, where a doctor extracts cells from points within the body, like fat or bone marrow. Alternatively, cells from a donor like blood from an umbilical cord, could be used, but they must be treated first to prevent negative reactions in the patient. The doctor then proceeds to inject this collection of cells, including rare stem cells, to the site of injury. In theory, this enhances the rate at which the body can heal after injury.
With further research and more advances in the field, stem cells will eventually be extracted from your body and separated in a lab to identify cells with specific capacity. For example, when healing an arthritic joint, stem cells for joint cartilage healing will be cultured to increase their numbers, then injected back into your joint in a quantity sufficient to repair it. While this is the ultimate goal, years of clinical research and trials are required first. In fact, the FDA does not currently allow cell removal from your body, processing them in any significant way, and then putting them back into your body, unless the practice is conducted as part of an approved clinical trial.
Many stem cell therapy offerings charge anywhere between $5000 to $10000 to simply take cells from your bone marrow or fat, spin them in a centrifuge to concentrate the cells, and inject them back into the area of injury. This process makes no attempt to identify the number or quality of stem cells harvested. There are no controlled studies proving this process is effective thus far.
As with any treatment, each patient reacts differently. The current literature surrounding stem cell injections states that the treatment is limited by the quantity and quality of stem cells initially harvested. Patients carry varying levels of stem cells, which may result in ineffective transfusions. Another limitation is physical blockages, such as blocked arteries, that inhibit the body’s ability to transport cells throughout the injured area.
Even when the outcome of stem cell therapy is recovery, establishing a cause-and-effect relationship is difficult because of multiple distinct processes taking place during treatment, and the high potential for placebo effects and natural healing. Some patients improve drastically while others show no substantial alterations.
The efficacy of stem cell injections is a point of contention among medical professionals, and because we are still in the experimental stage there’s still a lot we don’t know. FDA regulations for stem cell therapy are subject to change. Be cautious of stem cell treatments offered without regulatory approval or that have not been tested in a registered clinical trial.
When it comes to proven treatments, Dr. Stickney, a Kirkland orthopedic surgeon, is an expert in exercise and health, joint replacement surgery, sports medicine and more. Contact Dr. Stickney and return to your healthy, pain-free lifestyle!