Five Common Ways Stem Cells Are Delivered

Because stem cell therapies are new, you may have lots of questions.  One of the questions we commonly hear relates to the ways stem cells are transplanted into your body.  The specific terminology can be difficult, but, in practice, the methods are not hard to understand.

During a stem cell procedure, stem cells are delivered by one of five methods.  Your physician will determine with you the proper delivery technique based on your medical condition and the type(s) of stem cells being transplanted.

Intravenous (IV)

Intravenous injection involves placement of a line directly into a vein.  This is the fastest and simplest method for delivering stem cells throughout the entire body.  This method is commonly used to transplant mesenchymal stem cells, the repair cells of the human body, for general body system conditions.


An intrathecal procedure involves direct injection of stem cells into the spinal cord.  This is often referred to as a lumbar injection.  It is most often used to transplant neural stems cells, so they are able to reach the parts of the brain protected by the blood-brain barrier, and for spinal cord-related conditions.  A local anesthesia is often used to minimize discomfort.  In treating neuromuscular conditions, your doctor may use both intrathecal and IV methods.


During an intra-articular stem cell transplant, a physician will inject stem cells and a supporting fluid directly into a an affected joint.  Typically, your doctor will recommend a local anesthesia to minimize discomfort.  This procedure is often used in treatment of knees, hips, and shoulders.


Stereotactic stem cell transplant involves a three-dimensional coordinate system to find a specific point where stem cells will be injected.  It is a minimally invasive surgical procedure and is the least commonly used delivery method.  It is performed under general anesthesia to minimize pain and movement for the patient.  Stereotactic injection is used for some patients with Parkinson’s Disease.


In an intramuscular procedure, stem cells are injected directly into the muscle.  This is not yet a commonly used method; however, clinical trials evaluating this as a way to treat muscle injuries are underway and hold promise.


When performed properly, stem cell transplant procedures are safe, relatively painless and have few side effects.  Common side effects may include minor pain at the injection site, mild fever, mild headache or a low grade fever.  These are easily treated with ibuprofen or a similar medication.  Some patients experience slight swelling or a feeling of fullness in the area around the transplant site, but this subsides within a few hours as the body moves fluids in its normal ways.

If you have questions about a stem cell procedure, we encourage you to give us a call.  We’re always glad to help answer your questions.