What is Regenerative Medicine?
Regenerative medicine is the process of using the body’s own proteins, cells, and tissues to restore function lost due to damage, disease, or aging. While the textbook definition may sound dry, the implications--and the results--are truly revolutionary.
Regenerative medicine treatments such as stem cell therapy and PRP offer natural means not merely to treat orthopedic conditions, but to help your body actually heal them. From joint pain and arthritis to common sports injuries and ligament tears, a wide variety of complex illnesses can be addressed at the root by tapping into the body’s amazing ability to heal itself.
Categories of Regenerative Medicine Solutions
There are several different types of regenerative medicine, some of which are still in development, while others have been in use for years. At Philadelphia PRP and Stem Cell Institute, we practice the two safest and most established methods:
Stem cell therapy: Stem cells have been used in regenerative medicine for more than half a century in the form of bone marrow transplants. Today, bone marrow derived stem cells are widely used to treat common orthopedic conditions because of their many regenerative properties. When they are extracted from bone marrow and reapplied to a damaged area, they trigger healing and improved health in the surrounding tissue.
PRP: Platelets are commonly known for their blood-clotting ability, but they also contain many growth factors that are crucial to healing. In a similar process to a stem cell injection, lightly processed blood known as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is injected into a problem area and the resulting release of growth factors helps damaged tissue heal.
The two methods are similar, although they have different strengths. They can both improve healing times and completeness without the need for surgery. Stem cell therapy is the better choice for chronic issues and may provide better all-around results, while PRP is a less expensive alternative for boosting the healing process. It’s a particularly popular choice for athletes suffering from common sports ailments such as golf elbow or rotator cuff tears.
How Are Stem Cells Used in Regenerative Medicine?
Just as there are different types of regenerative medicine treatments, there are different types of stem cells. They vary mainly in where they are derived (their source) and which type of cell(s) they can become (their potency).
For example, hematopoietic stem cells can develop into any kind of blood cell. Embryonic stem cells are mainly derived from human embryos donated for research. They’re pluripotent, which means they can differentiate into many different types of cells, but they don’t work well in adults. They are only used for research in the United States due to a number of functional and safety issues.
However, we use only one type of stem cells: mesenchymal stem cells. This means that they are adult cells derived from bone marrow that can generate bone, cartilage, and any type of connective tissue. They are also autologous, or used by the same person from whom they’re extracted (as opposed to stem cells from a donor).
A stem cell therapy treatment session takes about an hour and is done in our office.
As you lie facedown on a table, the doctor extracts bone marrow aspirate from your hip with a special needle. You may experience mild discomfort but the majority of patients tolerate this easily.
To concentrate the adult stem cells and platelets in the marrow fluid into bone marrow concentrate (BMC), the aspirate is spun in a centrifuge for up to 15 minutes.
The doctor then re-injects the stem cell-rich, concentrated BMC into the area of pain. See how it works in more detail.
Please note: A platelet-rich plasma treatment is done in much the same way, except it begins by giving blood from your arm. Learn more about the PRP procedure.
What Can Stem Cell Therapy Treat?
Athletes, seniors, people dealing with chronic diseases, and those suffering or recovering from injury or surgery can all benefit from stem cell therapy. It has the ability to reduce inflammation, stimulate vascularization and tissue repair, modulate the immune system, and provide pain relief.
Stem cell therapy can be used to treat:
Ligament strains or tears*
Spine and back: bulging, herniated, or collapsed disc, facet joint pain, neck pain, annular tear*
Hips: avascular necrosis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, tendon tear, labral tear*
Shoulders: rotator cuff tear* or tendonitis, recurrent shoulder dislocations, glenoid labrum tear or degeneration, impingement, biceps tendinosis
Knees: patellofemoral syndrome (“runner’s knee”), patellar tendonitis (“jumper’s knee”), torn meniscus*, ACL/PCL/LCL sprains and tears*
Elbows: lateral epicondylitis (“tennis elbow”), medial epicondylitis (“golfer’s elbow”), medial epicondyle apophysitis (“pitcher’s elbow”), ulnar nerve entrapment, partial distal biceps tendon tear
Feet and ankles: plantar fasciitis, bunions, achilles tendonitis, tarsal tunnel syndrome
Hands and wrists: triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) tear*, carpal tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, trigger finger, chronic thumb sprain
*Please note: some ligament and cartilage tears may be too extensive to heal completely with BMC injection alone. In those cases, we may recommend a combination of surgical intervention combined with BMC to achieve maximal healing.
Advantages of Regenerative Medicine
Sometimes a patient’s illness is so far advanced that surgery or medication are the only viable options. However, any regenerative medicine candidate should consider how this breakthrough branch of healthcare outshines traditional methods:
Instead of an invasive surgery followed by a lengthy recovery time, regenerative medicine therapies are minimally invasive, usually outpatient, and offer potentially shorter healing times.
Skipping surgery also lowers your need for medications and eliminates the need for general anesthetic.
Regenerative medicine is much less expensive. As one example, the average knee replacement surgery costs around $50,000, and even with insurance may run upwards of $5,000.
While all injections carry a small risk of infection, a stem cell or PRP injection has virtually no risk of rejection because the materials originate from and are used in the same person.
As recognition grows that certain types of surgeries are woefully overprescribed and unnecessary, regenerative medicine continues to have breakthroughs for illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and more.