Stem Cell Therapy

Stem Cell Therapy

What is stem cell therapy?

This is an advanced technology for the treatment of arthritis and joint degeneration. Treatment with stem cells is a possible option for patients who have failed conservative treatment and would otherwise have to undergo surgery.

What are stem cells?

Stem Cells have been shown in a laboratory setting to have the remarkable ability to differentiate into different cell types. In the test-tube setting they can develop into the various tissues in the body like muscle, tendon or cartilage. Injection treatment with Stem Cells can reduce pain and improve function in patients affected by osteoarthritis. The precise mechanism of action of stem cells when injected into a joint is still poorly understood, but scientists hope that treatment with stem cells can help promoting the healing of damaged cartilage, this is an area of ongoing research.

Where in the body do stem cells come from?

Stem cells are found in different areas of the body. At the Orthobiologics Clinic we use cells collected from bone marrow and abdominal fat. Stem cells collected from abdominal fat are also known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSC'S). Bone marrow stem cell treatment is also known as BMC (bone marrow concentrate). Our clinicians can advise you on the advantages and limitations of the options dependent on your individual circumstances.

How does the procedure work?

The procedure is carried out in theatre under general anaesthetic. The stem cells are collected either from your abdominal fat or the hip bone using a special needle and syringe. The fluid obtained is then prepared in a special closed-circuit system to separate the various constituents from each other. The relevant layer of concentrated cells is then isolated and injected into the affected joint under x-ray guidance. The procedure will take approximately 60 minutes and you will be able to go home later in the day.

Which conditions can be treated?

Stem cells from abdominal fat and bone marrow can be used to treat joint pain as a result of osteoarthritis and cartilage defects. The effect of the stem cells can provide long-lasting pain relief for patients who have not responded to conservative treatment and who want to avoid surgical intervention. Bone marrow concentrate (BMC) is also a very potent treatment of fractures that have failed to heal.

Will treatment with stem cells cure the arthritis in my joint?

There is sadly no cure for arthritis, however treatment with stem cells can improve pain and function in joints affected with arthritis. Some research trials have shown an improvement in cartilage quality; however, this cannot cure the arthritis itself.

I've heard that treatment with stem cells doesn't work

At the Orthobiologics Clinic we would disagree with that statement. We are aware of the controversies surrounding stem cell treatment. There are many false claims made, that suggest stem cells can cure almost any ailment and many of these claims are unsubstantiated and/or lack scientific evidence. The clinical use of stem cells is still in its infancy and that means that the scientific evidence base is still developing. At the Orthobiologics Clinic we only provide stem cell treatments where research has shown the potential to make a positive difference.

Scientists have found that stem cells can have a regenerative effect when tested in a laboratory setting, however transferring promising lab results into real life can be difficult. This is a new treatment and the published research from clinical trials is difficult to interpret - most available trials are of limited quality with only a small number of patients involved and only a short follow up. While these trials demonstrate good clinical outcomes, it is still difficult to draw meaningful conclusions as there is usually no control group with which to compare the stem cell treatment. In other words: It is difficult to rule out that the documented improvement in pain and function may not be from a placebo effect.

At the Orthobiologics Clinic we feel that stem cell treatment has great potential. But considering the high price of the treatment and the lack of high-quality research studies, we would mainly consider this for patients who have failed other non-operative treatment and who are keen to avoid joint replacement surgery. Our experts would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, along with discussing the other treatment options and any advantages and drawbacks that they may have.

You can read more about the scientific background here and here.

I'm worried that there is a risk of contracting an infection

Our stem cell treatments only use tissues obtained from your own body: bone marrow, abdominal fat and/or blood. This eliminates the risk of blood-borne infections like hepatitis or HIV. However, like in any other surgical procedure there is a very small risk of infection from bugs normally living on your skin. We take careful precautions during the procedure to minimise the risk of a surgical site infection by carrying out the procedure in a surgical theatre with ultra-clean air.