How much is stem cell therapy? As stated by CBC Canada, the cost of stem cell therapy is $5,000 to $8,000 per stem cell treatment for patients. According to a Twitter poll by BioInformant, the cost can be even higher. Our May 2018 poll found that stem cell treatments can cost as much as $25,000 or more. This article explores the key factors that impact the cost of stem cell therapy, including the type of stem cells used within the protocol, the number of treatments required, and the site of the clinic. It also provides pricing quotes from stem cell clinics within the U.S. and worldwide.
In this article:
- How Is the Cost of Stem Cell Therapy Determined?
- Why Is Stem Cell Therapy So Expensive?
- Less Expensive Stem Cell Costs
- The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy by Condition and Clinic
- The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy in the U.S.
- Stem Cell Treatment in Panama
- Stem Cell Therapy Costs in Mexico
- Unexpected Consequences: Complications Raising the Costs of Stem Cell Treatment
- The Stem Cell Therapy Cost of Possible Side Effects
- The Stem Cell Tourism
- Stem Cell Lawsuits
- Stem Cell Treatment Risks and Benefits
- Stem Cell Treatment Outcomes
- Stem Cell Therapy Procedures
- Seeking a Stem Cell Treatment?
The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy | A Closer Look
Stem cell therapy is the use of living cells as therapeutics to treat disease or injury. Read on to learn about the cost requirements of these procedures.
How Is the Cost of Stem Cell Therapy Determined?
CBC Canada’s pricing involves Cell Surgical Network (CSN) following its protocol “to remove fat tissue and process it before re-injecting [adipose-derived stem cells] either directly or intravenously into the same patient.” Unfortunately, the U.S. FDA and Department of Justice (DOJ) sent this network of stem cell treatment providers a “permanent injunction” notice in May 2018. Therefore, patients should not seek treatments from the group at this time. Although Cell Surgical Network (CSN) is based in California, it has a network of approximately 100 U.S. treatment centers. They also have three Canadian clinics located in Vancouver, Sudbury, and Kamloops.
Safety is Added to the Equation
The controversy such as the one above stirs up questions about the safety of stem cell procedures. Anyone considering stem cell therapy from any tissue or source will benefit from understanding the possible consequences of stem cell therapy and the factors driving costs.
Costs of a Stem Cell Transplantation
For the patient, a stem cell transplant involves multiple steps, including:
- isolating the adult stem cells
- re-administering the cells
- post-treatment monitoring and follow-up
There are also real costs for the doctors who provide stem cell treatments. They have overhead costs, including:
- office space
- training acquired through hands-on courses
- support personnel
- admin requirements
There is also time and expertise required to perform the procedure and offer post-operative care. In some cases, the physician must pay licensing fees to access stem cell sourcing, processing, or delivery technologies.
Why Is Stem Cell Therapy So Expensive?
Stem cell treatment has gained more and more traction over the last decade. It has been helped along by considerable advances in research. In 2017, the number of scientific publications about stem cells surpassed 300,000. The number of stem cell clinical trials has also surpassed 4,600 worldwide.
Affordable Adipose-Derived Stem Cells
However, stem cell therapy is still expensive. Among the cheapest and easiest options is to harvest adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) – those that exist in adult fat layers – and re-deliver them to the patient. Unlike harvesting from bone marrow or teeth, providers can feasibly remove fat, separate stem cells, then re-inject them into a patient the same day. This approach is typically less expensive than those that require more invasive procedures for harvesting. Because of its practicality in terms of cost, it has become a common approach to stem cell treatment.
Less Expensive Stem Cell Costs
Relatively “easy” harvesting still doesn’t translate to inexpensive cost, although some are certainly more affordable than others. For orthopedic conditions, the cost of stem cell therapy is typically lower, averaging between $5,000 and $8,000. Examples of these types of medical conditions include:
- knee osteoarthritis
- rotator cuff tendonitis
- tennis elbow
- cartilage defects
Note that these prices are typically out-of-pocket costs paid by the patient because most insurance companies will not cover them. They are considered experimental and unapproved by the FDA. This means patients needing stem cell treatment will need to use their own savings.
Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant to Lower Costs
Although fat is a frequently utilized source for stem cells, it is also possible for physicians to utilize stem cells from bone marrow. Regenexx® provides this service in the U.S. and Cayman Islands. With the Regenexx stem cell injection procedure, a small bone marrow sample is extracted through a needle, and blood is drawn from a vein in the arm. These samples are processed in a laboratory, and the cells it contains are injected into an area of the body that needs repair. On June 19, 2018, ACAP Health, a “leading provider in innovative, clinical-based solutions partnered with Regenexx to reduce high-cost musculoskeletal surgeries.” ACAP Health is a national leader in employer healthcare expense reduction. It is one of the first healthcare groups to partner with a stem cell treatment group to support insurance coverage to patients.
The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy by Condition and Clinic
A recent Twitter poll conducted by BioInformant reported that, on average, patients can expect to spend $25,000 or more on stem cell therapies. According to the poll,
- 30% of the respondents undergoing stem cell treatments spent $5,000 or less
- 20% spent $5,000 to $10,000
- 40% spent $10,000 to $25,000
- 10% spent over $25,000
Most likely, those paying lower stem cell treatment costs under $5,000 were pursuing treatment for orthopedic or musculoskeletal conditions. In contrast, those paying higher treatment costs were likely getting treated for systemic or more complex conditions, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia), psoriatic arthritis, as well as the treatment for autism.
The Cost of Stem Cell Therapy in the U.S.
In the U.S., treatment protocols vary depending on the clinic and the treating physician. A one-time treatment that utilizes blood drawn from a patient can cost as little as $1,500. However, protocols that utilize a bone marrow or adipose (fat) tissue extraction can run as much as $15,000 – $30,000. This is because bone marrow extraction is an invasive procedure that requires a penetrating bone and adipose tissue extraction requires a medical professional trained in liposuction.
Higher Costs for Complex Diseases
For treatments that require a systemic or whole-body approach, the cost tends to be in the higher range, often averaging from $20,000 to $30,000. Examples of the diseases or conditions requiring this type of stem cell treatment include:
- Crohn’s disease
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis
These higher costs reflect the complexity of treating these patients and the fact that multiple treatments are often required.
Stem Cell Treatment in Panama
Founded by Dr. Neil Riordan, a globally recognized stem cell expert, the Stem Cell Institute in Panama is one of the world’s most trusted adult stem cell therapy centers. Over the past 12 years, the center has performed more than 10,000 procedures, making it a widely recognized destination for stem cell treatments.
Allogeneic and Autologous Stem Cells
Working in collaboration with universities and physicians worldwide, its stem cell treatment protocols utilize “combinations of allogeneic human umbilical cord blood stem cells and autologous bone marrow stem cells to treat a wide variety of conditions.”
Average Cost of Treatment in Panama
A reader of BioInformant was recently treated for psoriatic arthritis at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama in early 2018. The price of his stem cell treatment was $22,000. With travel and lodging included, the total expenses were approximately $30,000.
Stem Cell Therapy Costs in Mexico
Because of its proximity to the U.S., Mexico is increasingly becoming a destination for medical tourism. Before choosing a stem cell treatment provider in Mexico, ensure the clinic is fully authorized by COFEPRIS, the Mexican equivalent to the FDA.
GIOSTAR Mexico Stem Cell Treatment Cost
One patient who recently shared stem cell treatment quotes with BioInformant found that the treatment for glycogen storage disease, a metabolic disorder that often onsets in infancy and continues into adulthood, would cost $23,900 through GIOSTAR Mexico.
Celltex Cost of Stem Cell Therapy
In contrast, the patient was quoted $33,000 through Celltex, a U.S.-based company that treats patients in Cancun, Mexico. Celltex follows FDA regulations concerning the export of cells to Mexico and is compliant with the standards and procedures of COFEPRIS. Celltex also has an alliance with a certified hospital in Mexico, which is approved to receive cells and administer them to patients by a licensed physician.
Stem Cell Therapy of Las Vegas and Med Spa
In contrast, the patient was quoted $10,000 from Stem Cell Therapy of Las Vegas and Med Spa, an American clinic. This price difference may reflect regulatory restrictions that prevent U.S. providers from expanding cells. It may also reflect the therapeutic approach used by the clinic, as well as the quality of their expertise.
Lower and Higher Costs Due to Protocols
In Mexico, where certain types of stem cell expansion are allowed that are restricted within the U.S., treatment protocols vary depending on the clinic and the treating physician. A one-time treatment that utilizes peripheral blood from a patient can cost as little as $1,000. In contrast, protocols that utilize more invasive sources of stem cells can run as much as $15,000 – $35,000. Examples of invasive procedures include bone marrow and adipose tissue extraction. In some cases, hospitalization may be required, which raises costs. The location of a stem cell facility can factor heavily into the cost of the procedure.
Unexpected Consequences: Complications That Raise the Costs of Stem Cell Treatment
Not every cost associated with treatment gets billed to the patient at the time of the procedure. Hidden costs such as reactions to the treatment, graft-versus-host disease, or disability derived from the treatment can all result in more money to the patient, to insurance, or to the government.
The Risk of Graft-Versus-Host Disease
For example, in the case of someone with cancer, it frequently isn’t viable to harvest the patient’s own stem cells because they may contain cancerous cells that can reintroduce tumors to the body. Instead, the patient would receive stem cells by transplant. Treatments that involve cells from another person are called “allogeneic” treatments. The danger here is that the body may see those cells as “invaders” and attack them via the immune system, a condition known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). The body (“host”) and the introduced stem cells (“graft”) then battle rather than coexist.
The Stem Cell Therapy Cost of Possible Side Effects
Transplanted cells often face the risk of being rejected by their host; this article discusses the effect of plasma exchange on acute graft vs. host diseasehttps://t.co/cA3nzFntew
— Katie Bunde (@kbuns76) May 29, 2018
In addition to making the stem cell treatments less effective or ineffective, GvHD can be deadly. Roughly 30 to 60 percent of hematopoietic stem cell and bone marrow transplantation patients suffer from it, and of those, 50 percent eventually die. The hospital costs associated with it are substantial.
Increased Cost for Worsening Conditions
Another hidden cost is the potential to disrupt a system that formerly functioned adequately. The best current example of this is the case of Doris Tyler, who received bilateral stem cell injections in her eyes from Drs. Robert Halpern and Jamie Walraven of Stem Cell Center of Georgia. According to her, while her vision was failing, it was still good enough to perform various tasks, and now it is not. That means the cost increases for her, as well as potential insurance or disability claims (though again, insurance is unlikely to cover the specific consequences of this action).
Stem Cell Tourism
Because of tight regulations surrounding stem cell procedures performed in the United States, many stem cell treatment providers provide both on-shore (U.S.-based) and offshore (international) treatment options. Depending on where a treatment is received, patients may have to pay travel, lodging, and miscellaneous expenditures.
Regenexx Treatments at Different Sites
For example, Regenexx offers treatments at a wide range of U.S. facilities using non-expanded stem cells. However, it also offers a laboratory-expanded treatment option at a site in the Cayman Islands, which can administer higher cell doses to patients by expanding the cells in culture within a laboratory.
Okyanos Offshore Site in Grand Bahamas
Similarly, Okyanos (pronounced “Oh – key – AH – nos”) offers treatments to patients at its Florida location and provides more involved stem cell procedures at its offshore site in Grand Bahama. It was founded in 2011 and is a stem cell therapy provider specializing in treatments for congestive heart failure (CHF) and other chronic conditions. It is fully licensed under the Bahamas Stem Cell Therapy and Research Act and adheres to U.S. surgical center standards.
Celltex in Houston and Mexico
Similarly, Celltex is headquartered in Houston, Texas, but offers stem cell treatments in Cancun, Mexico. Celltex specializes in storing a patient’s mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for therapeutic use.
Stem Cell Lawsuits
While no hard evidence yet points to stem cell clinics raising their rates as a result of lawsuits, that is a typical response in industries whose products or services the public perceives as a high risk.
Reduced Bottom-Line Profits
An additional danger to stem cell treatment providers, points out Nature, is the reduction of bottom-line profits through former patients winning suits. If clinics have to pay out the money they earned – and then some – to individuals suing for damages, they may soon become faced with an unviable business model. That is a definite concern for those hoping to leverage these treatments now and in the future.
Stem Cell Treatment Risks and Benefits
As with any other area of medicine, patient evaluations of stem cell providers and treatments run the gamut from extremely satisfied to desolately unhappy. Those like Doris Tyler who have lost their eyesight exist at the negative end of the spectrum. However, many others praise stem cell treatments for their power to heal diseases, boost immunity, fight cancer, and more.
Stem Cell Knee Treatment for Cade Hildreth
For example, BioInformant’s Founder and President, Cade Hildreth, had a favorable experience with stem cell therapy. Cade had bone marrow-derived stem cells collected and then had them re-injected into the knee to treat a devastating orthopedic injury. Cade was able to reverse pain, swelling, and scarring to reclaim an elite athletic ability.
Support for the Development of Regenerative Medicine
As of now, this much is clear. There exists enough interest in America and across the world that stem cell providers are continuing to offer a wide range of treatments. Stem cell treatments also offer the potential to reverse diseases that traditionally had to be chronically managed by drugs. Like most medical practices, stem cell treatments will require further testing to reveal merits and faults. Until then, the public will likely continue to pursue services when medical needs arise.
Stem Cell Treatment Outcomes
Although the cost of stem cell therapy is pricey, some patients choose to undergo the treatment because it is more economical than enduring the costs associated with chronic diseases.
Although most stem cell therapy providers do not provide FDA-approved procedures, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to encourage patients to pursue approved therapies, even if there is a higher associated treatment cost.
Weigh the Benefits Over the Cost of Stem Cell Therapy
Providers rarely post their prices for stem cell treatments in print or digital media because they want patients to understand the benefits of therapy before making a price decision. Additionally, the price of stem cell treatments varies by condition, the number of treatments required, and the complexity of the procedure, factors that can make it difficult for medical providers to provide cost estimates without a diagnostic visit for the patient. However, in many cases, it is not in the patient’s best interest to make treatment decisions based on the cost of stem cell therapy. The best way to know whether to pursue stem cell therapy is to explore patient outcomes by condition and compare the healing process to other surgical and non-surgical treatment options.
Stem Cell Therapy Procedures
The cost of stem cell therapy is indeed expensive, especially because the procedures are rarely covered by health insurance. However, with the right knowledge and a clear understanding of the treatment process, the risk of undergoing stem cell therapy can be worth it, especially if it removes the requirement for a lifetime of prescription medication. Although stem cell therapy has associated risks, it has improved thousands of lives and will continue to play in a key role in the future of modern medicine.
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