Stem cell therapy for knees may be able to provide relief to a lot of people. Knee pain is an extremely common condition that affects millions of Americans and people around the world. Considering the daily load that legs bear, a problem with your knees can limit movement. Knee pain can substantially reduce ones’ quality of life and anti-inflammatory medication can only do so much. Suffice it to say, there exists significant interest in finding solutions to address the pain and to restore healthy knee function. That’s where stem cell therapy for knees comes in.
Stem Cell Therapy For Knees | What You Need To Know
In this article:
- Why Is Stem Cell Therapy For Knees Important?
- The Prevalence and Problem of Knee Pain
- What Conditions Do Stem Cell Therapies for Knees Treat?
- How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
- How Much Does Stem Cell Therapy For Knees Cost and How Long Does It Take?
- Is Stem Cell Therapy Always Effective for Knees?
- What Risks Exist?
- What’s the First Step?
Why Is Stem Cell Therapy For Knees Important?
With the growing power of regenerative medicine, more physicians are now able to offer affordable, cost-effective and – most importantly – long-lasting treatments that address pain in the short and long term. Stem cell therapy for knees carries with it the possibility to make knee joint pain obsolete.
Despite the promise of regenerative therapy, however, it’s still important to perform due diligence before making a decision. This requires understanding some facts about knee pain. These facts include what causes it, how stem cell therapy provides relief, how it works, and who’s a good candidate.
The Prevalence and Problem of Knee Pain
More than a third of Americans suffering from arthritis experience severe joint pain (arthritis), the number rising to 15 million in 2014. A recent Korean study concluded that 46.2% of people over 50 suffered some type of knee pain, of which roughly 32.2 percent are men and 58.0 percent are women.
Unfortunately, treatments are limited. Cortisone injections can cause secondary issues at the site of injection. Patients may suffer joint infection, nerve damage, skin thinning, temporarily greater pain, tendon weakening, bone thinning, and bone death. These are clearly not minimal risks. Other treatments include knee replacement surgery. This also carries all the normal risks of anesthesia and invasive procedures, and anti-inflammatory medications, which are the prevailing cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
One can easily see the appeal of a simple injection. So exactly how does stem cell therapy work? What are recovery times like, what conditions does it treat, and who can get the treatment? These are critical questions to ask before embarking on a course of stem cell therapy. In fact, they should be asked even before setting up a consultation.
What Conditions Do Stem Cell Therapies for Knees Treat?
The main conditions treated by stem cell injections include knee osteoarthritis, cartilage degeneration, and various acute conditions, such as a torn ACL, MCL, or meniscus. Stem cell therapy may speed healing times in the latter, while it can actually rebuild tissue in degenerative conditions such as the former.
That’s a major breakthrough. Since cartilage does not regenerate, humans only have as much as they are born with. Once years of physical activity have worn it away from joints, there is no replacing it. Or at least, there wasn’t before stem cell therapy.
Now, this cutting-edge technology enables physicians to introduce stem cells to the body. These master cells are capable of turning into formerly finite cell types to help the body rebuild and restore itself.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Although it may sound like an intensive procedure, stem cell therapy is relatively straightforward and usually minimally invasive. These days, physicians have many rich sources of adult stem cells, which they can harvest right from the patient’s own body. This obviates the need for embryonic stem cells, and thereby the need for moral arguments of yore.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are one of the main types used by physicians in treating knee joint problems. These cells live in bone marrow, but increasing evidence shows they also exist in a range of other types of tissue. This means they can be found in places like fat and muscle. With a local anesthetic to control discomfort, doctors can draw a sample of tissue from the chosen site of the body. The patient usually doesn’t feel pain even after the procedure. In some cases, the physician may choose to put the patient under mild anesthesia.
They then isolate the mesenchymal stem cells. Once they have great enough numbers, physicians use them to prepare stem cell injections. They insert a needle into the tissue of the knee and deliver the stem cells back into the area. This is where they will get to work rebuilding the damaged tissue. Although the mechanisms aren’t entirely clear, once inserted into a particular environment, mesenchymal stem cells exert positive therapeutics effects into the local tissue environment.
Mechanisms of action of mesenchymal stem cells appear to include reducing inflammation, reducing scarring (fibrosis), and positively impacting immune system function.
That’s not quite enough to ensure a successful procedure, however. That’s why stem cell clinics may also introduce growth factors to the area. These are hormones that tell the body to deliver blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the area, helping the stem cells thrive and the body repair itself.
Physicians may extract these growth factors from blood in the form of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). To do this, they take a blood sample, put it in a centrifuge and isolate the plasma, a clear liquid free of red blood cells, but rich in hormones needed for tissue repair.
So, what can a patient reasonably expect when it comes to stem cell therapy, in terms of time and cost outlay?
How Much Does Stem Cell Therapy For Knees Cost and How Long Does It Take?
The answers to both of these questions differ depending on the clinic doing the procedure and the patient’s level of knee degradation. Some clinics recommend a course of injections over time. Meanwhile, others prepare the injection and deliver it back to the patient in only a matter of hours. Either way, the treatment is minimally invasive, with fast healing times and a speedy return to normal (and even high-intensity) activity.
Some quotes for stem cell knee treatment are as low as $5,000. Others cost up to $20,000 or more. Again, this depends on how many treatments a patient needs, as well as how many joints they’re treating at the same time. Because it’s easier to “batch prepare” stem cells, a patient treating more than one knee (or another joint) can address multiple sites for far less. The procedure would only cost an addition of about $2,000 or so per joint.
Is Stem Cell Therapy Always Effective for Knees?
No treatment proves effective every time. However, insofar as patients reporting good results for stem cell injections, the overall evidence does lean in a beneficial direction. Studies at the Mayo Clinic, for instance, indicate that while further research is needed, it is a good option for arthritis in the knee. Anecdotal reports are positive as well. Patients report it as an effective alternative to much more invasive solutions, such as arthroscopic or knee replacement surgery.
Other studies point to the need for caution. Stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine, in general, are only now exiting their infancies. There aren’t enough high-quality sources from which to draw at this point, so hard and fast conclusions remain elusive. Of the studies that do exist, some contain unacceptably high levels of bias.
Of course, any new treatment will face these kinds of challenges in the beginning. For those who need an answer to knee pain, and haven’t yet found one that works, it’s likely worth the risk that it won’t prove as effective as they hoped.
Stem Cell Therapy for Knees at Mayo Clinic
In December 2016, researchers at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida released data from the world’s first prospective, blinded and placebo-controlled clinical study testing the benefit of using bone marrow derived stem cells to reduce arthritic pain and disability in knees. In order for patients to participate in the study, they had to have two damaged knees. The researchers then gave patients a stem cell injection in one knee and a saline injection in the other, without clarifying to the patients which treatment was which.
The findings from this Mayo Clinic study were released in The American Journal of Sports Medicine. Interestingly, patients not only had a significant improvement in the knee that received the stem cell injection, but also experienced improvement in their other knee, which only received a saline control injection.
Of course, this finding begs the question, was this effect caused by the power of the placebo effect? Or, did the stem cell injection in one knee create a whole-body effect that positively impacted the other knee as well? The study’s lead author, Shane Shapiro, M.D., a Mayo Clinic orthopedic physician, intends to explore this question further.
For the past couple years, the Mayo Clinic has offered a regenerative medicine approach to repairing knee cartilage, which can be completed in a single surgery. The U.S. FDA approved the “use of this technique, known as recycled cartilage auto/allo implantation (RECLAIM), in a trial utilizing the stem cell bank in the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine.”
According to Daniel B. Saris, M.D., Ph.D., and Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist at Mayo Clinic, “Mayo is unique in having an adipose-derived allogeneic stem cell bank. It provides us with donor mesenchymal stem cells, which we mix with recycled autologous cells to quickly obtain enough cells to fill the patient’s cartilage defect without operating twice.”
What Risks Exist?
The good news about this form of stem cell therapy is that it often, although not always, uses the patient’s own cells. With autologous (self-derived) treatments, physicians can avoid the dangers that accompany donor cells. The main one of which is graft-versus-host disease, in which the donor cells initiate an immune response against the patient’s body. In autologous treatments, the cells have all the same antibodies, so neither the body nor the reintroduced cells will reject one another.
Also, the relatively low-stakes outpatient nature of the procedure (versus, say, a bone marrow transplant) means that the chances of something going wrong are much reduced.
However, there do exist some risks wherever needles come into play. It is possible to get an infection at the site of the blood draw as well as at the injection site, but these risks are quite low. Other risks include discoloration at the injection site or soreness. While some people fear the possible growth of stem cells at the site of injection into a tumor, it is unlikely for this to happen, because physicians utilize adult stem cells for these procedures that have a low proliferative capacity.
These adult stem cells tend to be much safe than pluripotent stem cell types. Examples of pluripotent stem cells are embryonic stem cells (derived from embryos) and a type of lab-made stem cell known as induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell).
What’s the First Step?
For those who think stem cell therapy could prove beneficial, it’s time to set up a consultation with your doctor. Multiple factors will influence whether or not it’s a good idea. These include age, health, and severity of the condition and other available treatments. However, overall, this form of regenerative medicine is reasonably affordable, very low-risk, and typically effective.
Stem Cell Treatment
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In alignment with what we believe at BioInformant, GIOSTAR’s goal is to offer cutting-edge, extensively researched stem cell therapy options designed to rejuvenate and improve a patient’s quality of life.
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