Update on stem cell treatment cost for 2018 from ongoing poll

I get asked many questions about stem cell therapies, but one of the most common over the years has been about the stem cell treatment cost. For instance, a reporter might ask, “How much does a stem cell treatment for MS cost?” and a patient might ask me, “How much is a fair cost for a stem cell therapy for arthritis?” Or, patients will voluntarily tell me what they paid or mention it in the comments. We hear various numbers thrown around about costs so I decided to do a poll on this. I even did an early update on the results of this poll, voicing my skepticism that the costs paid were worth it.

But the poll has gotten well over 500 responses now so I thought I would revisit it and what it might mean.

You can see a screenshot of the images. It’s fair to say, as much as Internet polls aren’t considered particularly accurate, that this one largely fits with what is reported “out in the field”.

(On a side note, I wish there was such a thing as going out into the field for stem cell scientists as I’ve always been a bit jealous of scientists who really do go out in the field. What do we do, go out in the wild and catch wild or feral stem cells in the bush?)

Patients self-reported most often paying between $2,500 and $7,500 for their stem cell therapy so if we take the average of those we get that $5,000 figure that is what I hear most often from others. Yes, not necessarily very rigorous, but the result makes good sense. Not far behind though were responses in the $7,500-20,000 range.

About 1 in 10 respondents reported paying $20,000 or more, including some beyond $100,000.  That’s a whopping stem cell treatment cost, especially for something most often unproven and unapproved by the FDA.

If we consider these responses, the average cost may be more like $7,500-$10,000.

Notably, about 1/16 respondents indicated their stem cells were free. I’m not sure what that means in terms of how that came to be.

Interestingly, most respondents who also went on to answer a 2nd poll in that post about where they got the treatment indicate it was at a stem cell clinic (scroll down in that Oct. 2017 post and you’ll see the 2nd poll). This 2nd poll has about 200 responses.

So today buying a simple stem cell “treatment”, most often unproven and non-FDA approved, is often not so different in cost than buying a 10-year old used car, while less often it is similar to buy various new cars including at the high end of stem cell therapy cost, some very expensive new cars. This cost and the risks involved are why I have suggested to patients in the past to be assertive when considering a stem cell treatment, ask questions, don’t just accept too good to be true kinds of answers, etc. In short, be at least (or ideally much more) rigorous about unproven stem cell treatments as you are about buying a car.

20 Comments


  1. Thank you. However, importantly, I’d like to know how those who responded to the poll consider if the cost was worth it in improved mobility and/or health. Or even….simply – how did their treatment work? It’s so difficult to find this info.


  2. The cost today should be free since there is no licensed therapy for the diseases/conditions you mention. Beyond CAR-T, Dendreon’s prostate DC vaccine, and a couple others, possibly few more depending upon country. If we are including BMT in the discussion, there are of course trials in MS and other disease. All other ‘stem cell therapies’ would still be under IND, that is investigational or not shown yet to be efficacious. No fee can be charged under law in the US at least.


    • Not true. In the US, a patient’s autologous adipose tissue may be used, which is extracted and then “Minimally Manipulated™” before re-infusion into the patient. Minimal manipulation has meant different things to different people, and that is where much of the debate over legality has taken place. There are those who consider ex vivo expansion using growth agents “minimally manipulated”, and others who consider any ex vivo growth to constitute excessive manipulation. However, to say that all stem cell treatments in the US need be considered an IND is simply not true. Clinics may market autologous MSC therapy for a variety of conditions so long as they are only re-infusing a patient’s own tissue.


      • Sean, in the FDA’s most recent 2 finalized guidances, it said that stromal vascular fraction, the most common form of adipose stem cells being marketed now, is a drug requiring premarket approval. It’s likely that almost any process to retrieve living cells from fat and then concentrating those cells to use as a product will in fact require an IND based on what the FDA has said so far.


        • Thank you for the clarification on the most recent news. I find it a great shame how slow and – frankly – backwards regulators have been in the US towards stem cell therapies. Yes, there are risks, but people are disabled and dying from autoimmune diseases today. Stem cells have proven immunomodulatory capacity that could help, even beyond extreme therapies like HSCT.

          Patients are woefully dissatisfied with the state of progress, and this is causing a general disenfranchisement with the Western allopathic medical establishment. I wish there were a high profile advocate for stem cell therapy in the US, like Elon Musk is an advocate for electric cars. Even CIRM seems to have lost its fighting spirit after being buried in paperwork by the FDA for over a decade. They still fight, but the vigor and drive isn’t there like it once was. Maybe we were too naive.


          • How many stem cells are in each treatment? A friend has had a few. Different price for different amounts. Is there data on how many cells should be administered during each treatment? She’s had IV and push, she’s had 90 million cells at one location and 7 million at another.


            • @Kim,
              This is a great question & one that many clinics are not upfront about. Quite a few clinics don’t do a good job counting the cells and often don’t bother to check if the cells are dead or alive. What patients should be asking is the # of living cells administered and how the clinic tests for that. If the clinic goes “What, living cells?” or says something like “of course they’re all alive” it’s a big red flag. I’m afraid many clinics are selling mostly dead cells.
              As to how many cells is best, the clinics generally have no clue. Almost nobody does because there isn’t much data on that.


            • These are absolutely the questions which need to be addressed with research. These same questions are why, in my belief, there is so much ‘trash’ research out there and also why meta-analysis is worthless in this field at the current time. The studies available are extremely inconsistent in so many ways, that to try to group evaluate them, would be to do everyone involved a grave disservice.

              Age of the patient, # of VIABLE/LIVING cells vs extraneous cells/solution chemistry, preparation, and even injection protocol are highly variable. This is not to mention small sample size, which rarely avails for statistical power enough to make any assertions.

              One of the easiest things to test and one, which in my opinion, is a likely reason for many poor results, is the effect of Iodinated contrast on the effectiveness of PRP and BMAC injections. It is well known that platelet activation and effectiveness is inhibited by iodinated contrast, and yet, most or many joint injections utilize contrast to insure appropriate needle position. I have even seen spinal disc injections where the amount of contrast exceeded the amount of BMAC and/or PRP injectate.

              There are so many issues with what and how things are being done. I don’t think most are dangerous, but I do think that there is a high liklihood that most will not be effective for various simple reasons. # and age of viable cells is another major factor. etc etc etc.

              We need to proceed with the research. We are, but we also need sane guidance, and we do not have that at this point. The FDA needs to provide it, but they need to do it sanely and not simply to find a hole in which to shove the field. It is NOT a drug, although it can be ‘drug-like’. This is a key difference under which a different view of preparation and use must be set as a baseline. There will NEVER be a FDA approved ‘stem cell’ because those ‘stem cells’ will always be individual. HOWEVER, I do believe the FDA can install guidance in how those cells are obtained, processed, and readministered. This change from ‘drug to process’ would allow for much improvement in the field and also bring many of these ‘cowboy clinics’ into line.


      • Sean, my point wasn’t to suggest that all treatments require IND. My point is that there is a lot of misrepresentation out there. Bogus clinics offering the moon to patients with little in the way of options. Sticking with bona fide investigational trials is the way to go. Safety first, then efficacy with randomized, controlled trials. I do this stuff on a daily basis, so I do understand the differences. Thanks for clarifying though and apologies if it sounded like I was suggesting every trial requires IND.. DM


        • Understood. My feeling is that when patients are suffering from severe illnesses, the restrictions on treatments should be relaxed. It is a simple equation: if someone is badly disabled, allow them to try commensurately more radical/cutting edge treatments. I guess what I’m saying is the size and scope of compassionate use should be expanded to actually reflect patients’ needs – not to reduce risk of harm from the treatment. The patients are dying from their diseases now; to be frank, they don’t really care if their treatment has severe side effects.

          Patients are the greatest stakeholders in this equation, yet they have no voice.


  3. Did my knees here in Miami with stem cells from my own fat mixed with the white cells of my own blood two months ago, I feel that they have gotten better but still have pain, the first treatment was $9000 which includes $3000 for your stem cells to be sent to the lab which they will expand and you can use up to 25 times for $1k per dose. My father which is 78 did it thru IV about a month ago and says that he doesn’t feel any different. Going for my 2nd dose tomorrow. I also heard of a bad case where apparently someone was doing a treatment and for whatever reason ended up in intensive care because of it, don’t know the details, did not know that there were any negatives involved except the high cost.


  4. Gosh, I have had Prolotherapy on both of my knees in 2014 and it worked fantastic! Went for several treatments, had to pay cash and it was worth every penny UNTIL I fell on my “good” knee. The DO I am seeing with a group…claims $800 for “Stem Cell” treatment in which he will remove blood/tissue from my hip and put it in my tear at the knee. He said this would be better than PRP and should heal the tear. The firm he is with is identified as one of the Best in my area…so…I will try it!


  5. This is an example of a poll done by someone that does not understand the subject matter or wants to be intentionally misleading/divisive. The term “Stem cell injections” can and in this case does encompass multiple different procedures.

    The main reason for the large disparity is because you are talking about dozens of different procedures done in a dozen or more different ways. Procuring the stem cells are the most expense part of the procedure. cord blood and similar allogeneic (coming from another person) injections typically cost $10,000 or more because the clinic has to buy that themselves and it usually costs the clinic between $5,000-15,000. Autologous (your own stem cells) are usually cheaper because the clinic has a large cost up front in equipment but can recoup it over several patients.

    A much smaller part of the reason for the cost disparity is that clinics set their price but they will typically remain competitive. I have known people to go out of the country to get it done and spend $30,000. The same procedure may have cost them $2,000-10,000 if they had stayed in the U.S.

    P.S. You are correct about the FDA guidance but it goes against decades of precedence. If they enforced it they would have to do the same for a multitude of procedures across multiple specialties including obstetrics, spine surgery, reconstructive surgery, and plastic surgery. They will have a hard time defending those guidelines in court when they allow in vitro fertilization and similar procedures that have a significantly greater amount of product manipulation.


  6. HI MY WIFE HAS BULBAR PALSY SHE IS PHYSICALLY STRONG IT IS HER SPEECH TAKING SPEECH THERAPY AND ACUPUNCTURE , IS THERE ANY ONE I CAN TALK TO ABOUT STEM CELL TREATMENT I LIVE IN THE NEW YORK

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