Maybe you have seen the recent local Atlanta news story in which a patient suffering from macular degeneration received “stem cell treatment” to help improve her sight. Instead of the intended outcome, according to the patient’s lawsuit, her “blurry vision” became “blindness.” In the same news broadcast, the FDA commissioner was quoted, cautioning patients to beware of “deceptive” promises, “dubious” products, and “misbranded” drugs.
As a patient in pain, searching for the best possible treatment to get your life back, it can be scary to see reports like this. While I don’t want to comment on the specific case or the terrible complications the patient suffered, this situation underscores several key issues patients need to understand when considering treatment involving stem cells.
In this article, we are going to answer three key questions everyone should ask before agreeing to undergo Stem Cell Treatment:
1. Which treatment(s) have long-term studies showing them to be safe and effective?
2. What products being sold as “stem cells” or “containing stem cells” actually have live stem cells in them?
3. How does treatment technique determine the effectiveness of stem cell therapy?
Safe and Effective?
Currently, there are more than 80 different diagnosed medical conditions being treated with stem cells. Most of these applications are in the investigational stage, meaning we do not have long-term outcome studies that show clear and demonstrable benefits in clinical practice. Because of this, stem cells should not yet be used, in clinical practice, to treat these conditions.
That’s not to say these treatments are bad, only that they require more research and positive indications before we can confidently call them “safe and effective.” Until then, these treatments should be conducted in controlled research studies that are specifically designed to establish a reasonable record of safety and efficacy.
That said, there are a number of medical conditions, including treating joint and spine pain, for which stem cells have been used for many years with incredible success. Based on more than a decade of research and clinical data, we can be confident that employing stem cells in the treatment of joint and lumbar spine pain is safe and successful, when performed by a competent, caring physician using the proper medical equipment and procedures.
Not All Stem Cells Are Equally Effective
These days, there are many “stem cell products” being marketed to patients. Examples of these “purchased products” include placental stem cells, amniotic fluid, cord blood, and Wharton’s jelly. According to the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation, many of these “purchased products” do not actually contain live stem cells. While purchased products do contain some growth factor proteins, without live stem cells, the success rate of treatments using “purchased products” is nowhere near the success rate of using live stem cells.
There are only two kinds of live, proven-effective, stem cells: fetal stem cells and autologous (adult) stem cells. We do not use fetal stem cells in treatment, because evidence shows autologous (adult) stem cells are safe and effective. Autologous (adult) stem cells are harvested directly from the patient seeking treatment. They exist in your body specifically to heal damaged cells, and, because they are taken directly from the patient receiving treatment, there is no risk of rejection.
If stem cell “purchased products” are less effective, and, potentially, less safe, why do some doctors use these products rather than harvesting live stem cells? For some, the answer to this question is a practical one: they do not have the specialized medical equipment or the proper facilities to administer the best treatment option available. If a doctor does not have the proper facilities to perform this procedure, they have two options: choose another, less-effective, procedure or rent an operating room, staff, equipment and anesthesia, all at a very high cost for the patient.
For others, the choice to use a less-effective method is about profit margin. They can charge a lot more for products that “contain stem cells,” even if those cells are not alive and may not actually regenerate new tissue. I get advertising flyers all the time from lab companies promoting their products as ways for me to “save time” and “make more money” using their products.
In my practice, these flyers go right in the trash. I’m not interested in offering my patients inferior products and services, no matter how much time I might save. We may make less profit per procedure, but our outcomes are consistently better, and our long-term patient satisfaction is higher.
Better Procedures Produce Better Outcomes
Based on more than a decade of research and clinical application, there is absolutely no doubt that Stem Cell Therapy using live, autologous (adult) stem cells offers a higher long-term success rate than purchased products that contain no live stem cells.
I believe each of my patients deserves the safest and best possible outcome. If that takes more work, and we make less profit, I’m still proud of our work, because I know I’m helping our patients the best way I can. We understand that cost is an important factor when choosing a medical procedure, however, when it comes to stem cell treatment, “cheaper” generally means you are not getting the best products, the best procedure, or the best outcome.
We firmly believe that, as consumers begin to better understand the clear differences between the different types of stem cell treatments and what each of these treatments means for their personal health, low-cost and low-outcome providers will fall away, leaving only the medical practices that are committed to delivering the best for their patients.
I hope this article helped answer three of the most important questions you should ask when considering Stem Cell Therapy. I encourage you to contact me with any other questions you may have, so you are completely comfortable the treatment you choose will be the safest and the most effective.
To learn more about how Stem Cell Therapy can help eliminate your back or joint pain and get you ‘Back to Life’, call me at 770-844-3242 to set up a one-on-one consultation.