Stem cell therapy – buyer beware!

I want follow-up on our ongoing conversation regarding regenerative medicine. As I said before, sooner or later all of you will see, read, or hear some sort of advertising proclaiming the benefits of stem cells.
Here are three articles in mass media that I came across just in the past 2 weeks or so:
First, this is an article in the Austin American Statesman. It talks about 2 Los Angeles Angels pitchers who had tears of their elbow ligaments. This is a very common injury in baseball pitchers. These days, it is most common in teenagers who pitch. It usually is treated with ligament replacement surgery, commonly known as Tommy Johns surgery, after 1974 Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, who was the first to undergo the procedure. The rehabilitation after the procedure takes around 15 months.
These Angels pitchers have been treated instead with bone marrow derived stem cell injections, and the preliminary results look very promising.
These types of injections are something we routinely perform in our clinic, and I am grateful to the Austin American Statesman for drawing attention to alternatives for this very common type of surgery.
Second, here is an article in Men’s Health magazine about “Lower Back Pain from Damaged Disks”.
According to this article, a recent study found that 69% of patients who received just one stem cell injection had 50% or more reduction of pain one year later.
Interestingly, the quoted out of pocket cost of this procedure is $6000-$10,000.
We have been performing this therapy for approximately 2 years now, at less than half that cost. I am happy more publications mention it and bring it to their readers’ attention.
Finally, here is an article in The Economist, titled “A dish called hope”, which very interestingly frames the battle between patients and the advocates of stem cell use on one side, and the FDA on the other. The Economist predicts “a media circus” in September 2016, when the FDA will hold hearings on this issue.
So, what is a patient to do or to believe? I think a certain dose of circumspection is healthy, and obviously, weighing in the costs, risks and benefits should be done carefully. By and large, the costs of these treatments do not have to be astronomical, and we really try to keep them down, allowing more of our patients to try regenerative therapies. The risks, as far as we know so far, are really minimal. As regard the benefits, it seems that the results are slowly trickling in, and they are mostly positive. Let’s hope that we can continue to test these therapies in a safe manner, without excessive and burdensome regulation imposed by the FDA.
We are, as always, happy to discuss any of the issues with you.


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