Can stem cell therapy be used to treat an ACL tear or torn meniscus? As a long-time rugby player, I have seen my fair share of ACL and meniscus injuries, including experiencing them myself. While these injuries are traditionally treated using invasive orthopedic surgeries, stem cells are now emerging as a therapeutic alternative.
In this article:
- Stem Cells for ACL or Meniscus Tear
- Are Stem Cell Treatments for Knees Safe
- Regenexx Review
- Stem Cell Institute Review
- Can Stem Cell Therapy Regrow Meniscus
- Does Stem Cell Therapy for Knees Work
Stem Cells for ACL or Meniscus Tear
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury occurs when the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is either partially or completely torn. ACL tears commonly occur during sporting activities and are usually caused by a rapid change in direction or impact, although a range of other stimuli can also cause them.
A torn meniscus occurs when the meniscus within the knee is damaged. The meniscus is a curved structure within the knee that partly divides the joint cavity. It is composed of fibrocartilaginous, which is a mixture of fibrous tissue and cartilage tissue that make the meniscus both strong and flexible. Sporting injuries that involve twisting, turning, or impact to the knee can cause this injury.
Traditionally, both of these injuries have been treated through orthopedic surgeries. However, this is gradually changing as physicians realize the power of stem cells to address orthopedic injuries.
Are Stem Cells Treatments for Knees Safe?
Several groups now offer safe and effective stem cell treatments for knee injuries, including Regenexx, the Stem Cell Institute, Stem Cell Arts, and others. However, there are also rogue stem cell clinics that do not comply with FDA law. These stem cell clinics get mailed FDA warning letters.
To choose a safe provider of stem cell treatments, ensure that the treatment you are considering is either:
- FDA approved, or
- Being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) – An IND is a clinical investigation plan submitted and allowed to proceed by the FDA
When in doubt, do an online search for the clinic or physician you are considering. This will reveal whether or not they are under investigation by the U.S. FDA. FDA warning letters rank well in Google, so it is easy to find these results.
Regenexx is a company that specializes in orthopedic applications of stem cells. It offers two variations of its Regenexx procedure. The one that the company started with was its cultured mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) procedure, where the cells are expanded in number before being re-injected into the area of injury. It also has a same-day procedure.
Because of the regulatory environment in the U.S., the culture expanded stem cell procedure is only performed by a third-party through a license in Grand Cayman. In this procedure, the stem cells are multiplied outside the body (ex vivo) in a laboratory, creating larger quantities of the therapeutic cells. The same-day procedure is what it used in the United States to comply with FDA regulation of human cell and tissue-based products, known as HCT/Ps.
For Regenexx’s same-day procedure, it uses autologous (“self derived) adult stem cells. This includes both mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), as well as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), macrophages, and other cells present in a patient’s same-day isolation. For the company’s cultured expanded procedure, it is only the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that are expanded. These cells are characterized by being somewhat heterogeneous (mixed) in nature.
Stem Cell Institute Review
The Stem Cell Institute is another world leader in stem cell research and therapy that is treating orthopedic injuries with stem cells. The group was founded by Dr. Neil Riordan, a globally recognized stem cell expert. Treatments offered by the Stem Cell Institute focus on well-targeted combinations of allogeneic umbilical cord stem cells, as well as autologous bone marrow stem cells.
These clinics can treat patients for a a wide range of orthopedic applications. Many of these patient stories are featured on YouTube.
Can Stem Cell Therapy Regrow Meniscus
There are several proposed mechanisms as to how stem cells might heal knee injuries. These mechanisms include paracrine signalling, differentiation into new cell types, and exosomes. Exosomes are small vesicles released by cells that facilitate cell-to-cell communication.
For an ACL tear or torn meniscus, patients will usually be good candidates to be treated using same-day stem cell procedures. The majority of people experiencing an ACL tear can now avoid orthopedic surgeries by pursuing a stem cell treatment within the U.S.
However, if the damage is very severe, physicians may recommend that you go offshore to access culture expanded stem cells. While this process provides higher quantities of stem cells to facilitate the healing process, this therapeutic approach is not allowed within the U.S.
Additionally, for a large ACL tear in which the two parts that are separated by an inch or more, the injury will likely not be appropriate for a minimally invasive, needle-based procedure.
Ligament or tendon tears are usually appropriate for stem cell treatments, as long as there is reasonable approximation between the tissues. According to Regenexx, kness are the most common body area treated with stem cells. The next most common conditions are shoulder and hip, followed by foot, ankle, and hands.
Does Stem Cell Therapy for Knees Work?
If you have a knee injury and are considering possible alternatives to surgery, the video explains how to identify if you are suffering from a meniscal tear and whether you may or may not need surgery. It also discusses whether stem cell and biologic treatments may provide you with an effective treatment approach.
The physician in the video is Dr. Mayo Friedlis. He is part of a group called Stem Cell Arts that practices the Regenexx procedure. He treated my knee injury in 2014, so I hope you find it to be a valuable listen.
Do you have an injury that may be treatable with stem cells? Share your thoughts or ask questions below.