September 19, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Do stem cells for pain make any sense?

stem-cells-for-painDoes it make any sense scientifically or medically to use stem cells for pain?

I’m skeptical in most cases today.

The whole idea of stem cells for pain has been on my mind for a number of reasons.

For one thing, more stem cell clinics are marketing unproven stem cell therapies at a high price specifically for pain relief lately.

People are even having conferences on this concept. See the email ad I got yesterday on one such conference below

Is there any FDA-approved stem cell-based treatment for pain? Even one? Nope.

In Leigh Turner’s and my paper last year on stem cell clinics, we found in our data analysis that marketing of stem cells for pain was the 2nd most common claimed condition (see Figure 2B below). Even though this indication is unproven as safe or effective, clinics charge thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per intervention for this

Circling back, does it even make any sense scientifically that stem cells could relieve pain specifically?

How could this work if it can?

stem-cells-for-painA damaged tissue such as a knee-joint, if repaired by stem cells, could be less painful.

Maybe it could.

But again RCTs have not been done to prove this approach is safe and effective for repair, let alone pain relief.

In theory stem cells might be able to repair or replace dysfunctional nerves themselves leading to less pain, but most commercial offerings in this area aren’t using the right kind of stem cells. It’s not clear to me how, for instance, adipose or bone marrow stem cells could repair nerves. They are not programmed to do this.stem-cell-treatments-pain

Repairing a damaged spine with stem cells could also lead to less pain. But how do you get the right stem cells to the right place in the spine and have them do the right thing (and not the wrong thing) to fix the spine in such a way to reduce pain? Not simple, but possible.

There are more than 300 clinical trials for stem cells at least somehow related to pain. Hopefully some of these will provide clarity on this hot topic.

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