Posted On Sep 27, 2016
by Dr. Sharon McQuillan
Life has been good to Louis Risi, a former Fortune 500 CEO, Navy fighter pilot, and Hollywood producer. His days have been full of well-earned pleasures ballroom dancing, competitive tennis, afternoons spent on the links with friends. His entrepreneurial endeavors paid off beautifully. Now in his mid-70s, however, Risi has faced a challenge that hard work alone won’t conquer—the joint pain, stiffness, and degeneration of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects approximately 50 million Americans. Within a few short years, Risi went from peak physical condition to a point where he could barely walk. An orthopedic surgeon told him his left knee was “bone on bone.” His cartilage had essentially been destroyed by the inflammatory condition. His only option was a knee joint replacement.
Risi reluctantly scheduled the replacement following several trips to the ER to drain his knee of inflammatory fluid. Two days before his surgery, Risi was attending a seminar on stem cell therapy, and heard of treatment that regenerates arthritic joints without surgery. “I did my research on the subject and scheduled an appointment,” says Risi. “I canceled my joint replacement surgery in favor of stem cell therapy.”
Adult stem cells have the ability to heal, regenerate, and restore injured or diseased tissue. Harvested primarily from bone marrow or fatty tissue, stem cells become different cell types, such as cartilage cells, skeletal muscle, and bone cells. They reduce inflammation and promote tissue healing via growth factors and signaling molecules called cytokines. These recruit additional stem cells to the area, facilitating repair and healing damaged tissue. Regenerative orthopedic injections using a patient’s own stem cells is a nonsurgical option for those who suffer from joint pain, ligament and tendon injuries, muscle sprains, and tears. It can halt joint degeneration by reducing inflammation and rejuvenating cartilage. More than 45 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis in some form, and most people over the age of 40 have radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis. Currently there is no cure for joint injury and treatments serve only to lessen the pain, relieve symptoms, or improve range of motion. Common approaches include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription meds, cortisone injections, and arthroscopic surgery.
During regenerative orthopedic treatment with stem cells, fat is harvested and undergoes a process to release stem cells from fat tissue. The stem cells are combined with blood plasma that contains concentrated platelets and other growth factors. This combination is injected into the affected area. In the case of joint injuries, the stem cells decrease inflammation and pain, and increase circulation and cartilage production. The joint experiences improved function and mobility that does not swell with repetitive use.
“This treatment is performed while the patient is awake using local anesthesia,” says Dr. Denise Baker, staff physician at the Ageless Institute in Aventura, Florida. “Our patients walk out of the clinic on their own, awake and alert.” Data shows that 85 to 90 percent of patients responded to stem cell osteoarthritis treatment and showed an average 75 percent improvement from baseline. Mr. Risi reports that he experienced only mild discomfort after the treatment. Now, he is a regular on the tennis court, golf course, and dance floor. “The three-hour treatment was nothing less than remarkable,” he says.
Stem to Stern
As with any major scientific breakthrough, the market has become inundated with “stem cell treatments” and stem cell products that promise to do everything from cure disease to provide cosmetic enhancement. New You asks stem cell scientist Kristin Comella the ins and outs of safe and efficacious treatment.
NEW YOU: Not all stem cell treatments are created equal. How do you tell which ones are effective and which ones are scams?
KRISTIN COMELLA: It is important that patients look for cell products that have been validated according to the guidelines of the FDA. This means that the stem cells should be viable, but more importantly, able to grow and form different types of tissue. Scientists can confirm that the cells are able to make copies of themselves and form tissue like bone, cartilage, and muscle.
NY: Considering the importance of the health issues at hand, where should I go to get stem cell treatment?
KC: Stem cell procedures must be performed in a medical facility under physician supervision. In order to comply with regulatory guidelines, the stem cells must be removed, processed, and re-injected within the same procedure and the cells should not be sent out of the clinic for processing. Additionally, the cells cannot be cultured, grown, or multiplied before re-implantation to the patient. There have been numerous actions by the FDA on physicians and stem cell companies for violating the aforementioned regulations.
NY: What questions should I ask my doctor about the stem cell treatments they perform?
KC: Important considerations include physician credentials and experience, the total number of procedures performed, and the active presence of a scientific support team.