Stem Cell Therapy
Article Originally Published by RunnersWorld.com
They’re harvested and then injected into an injured area.
What is it? Stem cells are immature cells that have the ability to grow into many different types of cells. In sports medicine, stem cells are harvested and then injected into an injured area, says Jonathan Finnoff, D.O., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic and Medical Director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Minneapolis. While PRP therapy stimulates the healing process of tissue that is already there, stem cells may create new tissue. This is why researchers and physicians think this therapy may help joint injuries caused by worn-out cartilage; in cell cultures, stem cells can grow new cartilage, and if this can happen in a joint, it may prevent the need for a joint replacement. Bone marrow is generally harvested from the hip using an incision and specialized needle capable of penetrating bone. Then, similar to PRP therapy, the bone marrow is centrifuged to separate the stem cells and platelets, which are injected, under ultrasound guidance, into the injured area.
What does it treat? Stem cell therapy is most commonly used for tendon, ligament, joint, and muscle injuries that are not responding to other treatments, including PRP, Finnoff says. “I almost always recommend PRP first—it is less invasive, less expensive, and there is more evidence supporting it.”
How effective? The literature on stem cell therapy is relatively scant. The most encouraging studies are in sheep, where stem cells have been shown to regenerate cartilage, in essence reversing the process of osteoarthritis. “This is still very experimental,” Finnoff says. “That said, I’m having runners respond to stem cells, folks who might otherwise need major surgery.”
Who’s had it? Former NFL star Peyton Manning reportedly underwent stem cell therapy in 2011 as a last-ditch effort to treat a bulging disc in his neck. While Manning appeared to recover eventually, he also had at least one surgery after his stem cell treatment. Finnoff says he’s treated a handful of runners with stem cells, some of whom had great success.
Does it hurt? The bone-marrow-extraction process is typically performed under a local anesthetic or conscious sedation. Therefore, you won’t feel this part. Similar to PRP, the injection of stem cells shouldn’t be very painful.
Who offers it? Stem cell therapy is becoming increasingly available, especially at major academic medical centers, although the vast majority of stem cell products are not FDA approved. Finnoff recommends finding a physician associated with a college or university who is conducting research and has lots of experience with stem cells.
What’s the cost? Anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. The wide range is based on market demand, the equipment used, and the type of stem cell harvested. “Because insurance doesn’t cover this, providers charge what people are willing to pay,” says Finnoff. Still, he only recommends it for people with expendable income who have not had success with standard treatments.
Treatment plan? Stem cell therapy is usually a one-time thing. “The only time I’ll administer a second injection is if someone had a good, but partial, response,” Finnoff says. “If a runner with osteoarthritis is starting to regrow cartilage, but they haven’t grown enough to run without pain, I’d consider a second treatment.”
About Iffie Okoronkwo, M.D.
Iffie Okoronkwo, M.D. is a Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Medicine and Pain Management physician at Manhattan Spine and Sports Medicine (http://www.manhattanmd.com/), a private practice based in New York City with 40 years of experience providing the finest expert medical care and services to patients around the world.
Dr. Iffie is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and, as a physiatrist, utilizes ultrasound guided injections, fluoroscopy guided injections, PRP, regenerative medicine, and more to evaluate and treat a variety of conditions affecting muscles, joints, ligaments, and nerves.