Regenerative Medicine: A Natural Alternative to Joint Replacement

Knee and hip replacement surgery is NOT the only option to treat your joint pain.

Each year in the US, surgeons do more than a million joint replacements. most of them knees and hips.  Many of these surgeries treat damage caused by osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease that affects the joints, cartilage and surrounding bone.  Joint replacement surgery has become so common, it often seems everyone who experiences knee or hip pain almost expects to have a joint replacement at some point. The good news is medical advances offer better options today that can eliminate the need for painful invasive surgery, long recoveries, and limited activity.

Traditional Treatment & Joint Replacement

Traditional treatment for osteoarthritis involves a combination of physical therapy, painkillers of varying strengths, short-term lubricating injections, lifestyle changes and, ultimately, surgical joint replacement.  Painkillers help mask pain or slow progression of your knee’s damage, but it doesn’t correct the problems.  Physical therapy and lubricating injections can slow future damage, but they only work for a short time, if at all.  Lifestyle changes usually involve recommendations that take away activities we enjoy in favor of low impact or adaptive exercise.  However, none of these really do anything to treat the underlying condition.  While it does remove the pain of osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery is still a hammer and saw technique that creates problems of its own, including limits on activity, infection and the possibility of future replacement.

Regenerative Medicine: The Natural, Better Way

Stem cell therapy represents a non-invasive solution that resolves various joint disorders.  Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) are the repair stem cells of the human body.  Research shows that these cells respond to damage in injured areas to promote a healing process.  Not surprisingly, the number of stem cells in the body decreases and have less vitality as people age.  As a result, the body is unable to create enough repair cells to correct the damage as we get older.  The most obvious, elegant and natural solution to a shortage of repair stem cells is to augment their numbers with new stem cells.

Because stem cell healing is a natural process, physicians can do a non-invasive procedure to inject a sufficient number of stem cells where they can hone in on the damaged area.  Once there, the cells integrate with the body’s existing cells and specialize into new bone, cartilage and tendons as they repair damage in the joint.  Patients are typically able to return to normal activity after the procedure and avoid the painful and lengthy rehabilitation periods that are typically required to help restore strength, mobility and range-of-motion following invasive joint surgeries.  The table below illustrates some of the important differences in procedures.

  Knee/Hip Joint Replacement   Stem Cell Injection of Knee
Surgical incision; lengthy scar No surgery, incision or scarring
General anesthesia required Local anesthesia only
Inevitable bone loss: requires sawing away parts of the tibia, femur & knee cap Injection only: no bone or tissue loss
Mechanical prosthesis hammered into place Knee/Hip joint restored, anatomy kept pristine
Post-surgical drain typically required No surgery; therefore, no drain
Extended, often painful recovery Speedy return to normal function
Physical limitations of mechanical prosthesis; activity may be restricted No limitations on active lifestyle
Significant surgical risk & potential for future infections No long term risk
Potential exists for replacement of existing prosthesis which is much more painful and less successful than first surgeries No limits on future procedures

 

Regenerative Medicine Treatment

Soter Healthcare clients are treated by physicians at Beijing Puhua International Hospital.  BPIH is a world-leader in applied stem cell biotechnology and has been providing successful, evidence-based treatment outcomes for over a decade.  Physicians associated with the hospital designed a treatment program that provides you with a clinically optimal number of cells.  The hospital offers three regenerative knee treatment options.

Adipose Stem Cell (Bronze)

This is the most basic of the procedures.  It involves removing fat cells from the abdomen via liposuction, processing the cells to isolate stem cells, and injecting them into the knee space,

Advantages:

  • Cost – This is the least expensive of the three options.
  • Effective following knee injury for generally healthy, younger patients.

Limitations

  • Difficult to verify total stem cell count, but rarely able to exceed recommended 50 million stem cells based on adipose volume removed.
  • Not recommended for patients over 45 years old due to rate of stem cell reproduction.
  • Not as effective as other options for treatment of osteoarthritis or other chronic damage.
  • Invasive procedure at liposuction site.
  • Stem cells drawn via liposuction want to migrate back to that area to repair the damage of the liposuction procedure.

Note:

If you are looking at US-based stem cell providers, this is the single option you will find available.  Providers in the United States rely on what they believe are loopholes in FDA regulations relating to use of a person’s own stem cells and an exemption for a single surgical procedure.  The FDA issued a clarification, currently pending final review, stating the exemptions on which providers are relying are not compliant with the intent of the regulation.

Adipose + Donor Mesenchymal Stem Cells (Gold)

This is a significant step up from the adipose-only procedure.  It involves removing fat cells from the abdomen via liposuction, processing the cells to remove all but stem cells, and injecting them into the knee space.  In addition, allogenic (donor) mesenchymal stem cells are added to increase the total volume of stem cells and enhance cell restoration.  Mesenchymal stem cells are the body’s natural repair stem cells and are able to differentiate effectively to repair damaged knee structures.

Advantages:

  • Effective for treatment of osteoarthritis, chronic knee conditions and acute knee injury
  • Able to deliver recommended stem cell volume
  • Recommended for patients of any age; most effective for patients 40 to 70 years old

Disadvantages

  • Invasive procedure at liposuction site
  • Stem cells drawn via liposuction want to migrate back to that area to repair the damage of the liposuction procedure
  • Adipose-derived stem cells reproduce more slowly

Note:

The age range above is approximate.  Other factors, including general health, the nature and extent of knee damage, and weight, will also influence the medical recommendation for this option.

Donor Mesenchymal Stem Cells (Platinum)

This is the premier alternative stem cell procedure to knee or hip replacement.  It utilizes mesenchymal stem cells derived from donor umbilical cord cells.  Stem cells are injected directly into the knee space.  Because these are young cells, they reproduce and differentiate into needed cell types and repair joint damage more effectively than other procedures.

Advantages:

  • Effective for treatment of osteoarthritis, chronic knee conditions and acute knee injury
  • Able to deliver recommended stem cell volume
  • Best stem cell reproduction results
  • Recommended for patients of any age
  • Completely non-invasive procedure

Limitations

  • More expensive than other options

Why is the number of stem cells important?

Regenerating the cartilage of the knee is a highly cell-intensive process when the joint cartilage wore thin by aging, disease, or injury. While the body is naturally able to produce stem cells, often (especially when a person ages) the number of MSCs produced is just not enough for full cartilage regeneration.

Recent research shows the benefit of stem cell treatment begins by adding millions of stem cells to the afflicted joint.  As the number of cells approaches 100 million, in a series of injections, the clinical results (cartilage regeneration) are better than with injections of only 20-50 million cells. While some stem cell programs use a person’s own stem cells to deliver ~40 million host ADS cells into the joint in a single injection, studies show that this single-dose number is much less that the 100 million stem cells in sequential doses needed for optimal regeneration of knee cartilage.

What is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and why is it so vitally important?

PRP (derived from the patient’s own blood) releases growth factors and signaling proteins that activate the repair stem cells to grow and differentiate. Further, it helps boost the effect of the stem cells by providing a molecular scaffold that facilitates and protects the cells as they hone into the host bed of damaged cartilage. This PRP/hyaluronic acid mixture also cushions, sustains and protects these fragile cells as they nestle into the host bed of damaged cartilage and begin this amazing process of repair and regeneration.

You decide:  Joint Replacement or Natural Regeneration with Stem Cells?