You may have seen stories in the news about the potential of cell therapy to treat severe cases of COVID-19. One story, in particular, mentioned the positive results of an experimental study of stem cells with the patient mortality rate decreasing from 85 percent to 15 percent.[i] Cellular therapy has been shown to have regenerative, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulating properties. Although this patient sample was very small, this is yet another reminder that cell therapy has moved to the forefront of medicine.
Bone marrow transplantation for blood diseases has been in use for more than 40 years[ii], but more recently has been used to treat orthopedic injuries including joint degeneration and pain.
Why Do My Joints Hurt?
It is not uncommon to experience pain in the shoulders, elbows, knees, or hips. Sometimes even the toe joints can hurt. Whether big or small, painful joints can make daily activities difficult and significantly impact your quality of life.
Pain in the joints may result from several different conditions. These include:
· Osteoarthritis: a condition that develops when the cartilage in the joints begins to break down. It often occurs as a result of trauma, aging, obesity, or genetic factors.
· Tears or sprains to soft tissues surrounding the joint such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
· Chronic inflammation due to autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
The good news is that cell therapies that use a patient’s own blood, bone marrow, or adipose (fat tissue) have proven to be effective at treating joint pain without surgery or extended rehabilitation.
Fat Cells or Bone Marrow Cells?
Cell therapy is derived from two major sources of cells, adipose (fat) cells and bone marrow cells. Each can be easily obtained in the clinic, but the two offer different healing properties.
Adipose-derived cells are taken from the abdomen, flank, or thighs. These cells can repair and replace damaged or injured tissue. The specialized healing cells are called pericytes and they direct other cells to form new blood vessels, awaken stem cells and stimulate the growth of new tissues such as cartilage, bone, and tendon. They also secrete powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving molecules.
Bone marrow cells can be used for injury recovery and more rapid healing. That’s because bone marrow contains cells that have the ability to improve circulation, decrease inflammation and regenerate healthy tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
How Effective is Cellular Therapy?
Like all medical treatments, outcomes are significantly impacted by several factors, including:
· The extent of the damage being treated.
· The patient’s overall health prior to the procedure.
· How the orthobiologics are prepared for treatment.
· For many patients, however, using adipose and bone marrow cells to treat orthopedic injuries is highly effective and does not present many of the risks associated with traditional invasive surgery.
The procedure is performed on an out-patient basis in the physician’s office. Most patients require only a single treatment and many are able to resume their normal activities within days.