Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that utilizes the body’s natural healing mechanism to treat various conditions.
Stem cells are being used in regenerative medicine to renew and repair diseased or damaged tissues, and have shown promising results in treatments of various orthopedic, cardiovascular, neuromuscular and autoimmune conditions.
Stem cells are present in all of us acting like a repair system for the body. However, with increased age sometimes the necessary amounts of stem cells are not present at the injured area. The goal of stem cell therapy is to amplify the natural repair system of the patient’s body by increasing the numbers of stem cells at injury sites.
Types of Stem Cells
There are two types of stem cells:
- Embryonic stem cells: As the name suggests, these cells are found in embryos and are pluripotent, which means that they can differentiate into any cell in the body such as the skin cells, nerve cells, muscle cells and bone cells. These are not routinely used in Sports Medicine and Orthopedic applications.
- Adult stem cells: Also called somatic stem cells, these cells are found as islands in different tissues, such as bone marrow, brain, blood, skin, muscles and liver, in the adult human. Unlike the embryonic stem cells, these are able to differentiate into only specific types of cells such as blood cells. Their role is to constantly replace old dead cells for new cells and repair cells of tissues and organs after injury.
Use of Stem Cells in Orthopedics
Adult stem cells can be harvested from many areas in the body. These include adipose tissue (fat), bone marrow and peripheral blood. The mesenchymal stem cell is the most commonly harvested. These have the ability to turn into cells that form the musculoskeletal system such as tendons, ligaments, and articular cartilage. To obtain stem cells from the bone marrow, a needle is inserted into the iliac crest of the pelvic bone to extract the stem cells.
Currently, stem cell therapy is used to treat various degenerative conditions of the shoulder, knees, hips, and spine. Stem cells are also being used in the treatment of various soft tissue (muscle, ligaments and tendons) as well as bone-related injuries.
Who is a Good Candidate for a Stem Cell Procedure?
You may be a good candidate for stem cell therapy if you have been suffering from joint pain and want to improve your quality of life while avoiding complications related to invasive surgical procedures.
Stem cell therapy involves the extraction of stem cells, processing it and implanting it at the site of damage.
Your doctor will first take a sample of stem cells (mesenchyme stem cells) from the bone marrow. The site of harvesting is the outer side of the pelvic bone called the iliac crest. Local anesthesia or a general anesthetic in the operating room will be and a narrow needle inserted into the bone to obtain a sample of bone marrow. This is then centrifuged and not manipulated there in the same room.
The special centrifugation process separates the mesenchymal cells from the bone marrow.
These cells are then injected into the diseased or injured region of the body. The mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to migrate to regions of inflammation and injury to regenerate the damaged bone or cartilage tissues and also produce growth factors to enhance the process. The mode of action of these stem cells may include:
- Differentiation into tissue specific cells (i.e. cartilage cells or bone cells)
- Encourage tissue regeneration
- Modulate the inflammatory response
Conditions Treated by Stem Cell Therapy
What are the risks and complications of stem cell therapy?
Risks and complications
Stem cell therapy is generally considered a safe procedure with minimal complications, however, as with any medical procedure, complications can occur.
Some risks factors related to stem cell therapy include infection as the stem cells may become contaminated with bacteria, viruses or other pathogens that may cause disease during the preparation process.
The procedure to either remove or inject the cells also has the risk of introducing an infection to the damaged tissue into which they are injected. Rarely, an immune reaction may occur from injected stem cells.