July 10, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Arthritis patient with pain’s email on stem cell clinic & my answer

knee arthritis stem cells
Example of a joint (knee in this unrelated case) with osteoarthritis evident by x-ray.

Stem cells for arthritis and pain are hot topics these days and I’m getting an increasing number of patients reaching out with questions and sharing their situations related to arthritis or pain (or usually both together). I asked one arthritis patient who reached out to me if they would be OK with me sharing their email, with all identifying information removed, along with my answer to them. The point was to use this as example that would be helpful to the community. They agreed. Below you’ll see their slightly edited and redacted email and my answer.

The patient email:

Hi Paul,
I am in my fifties and was scheduled for a Stem Cell Therapy procedure here in —–, CA at —– Therapy with Dr. —–. I cancelled my appointment today because I was afraid of any risks in my future health. I didn’t really research it. I was just desperate to be out of pain due to an injury that has become inflamed in the joint, has loss of cartilage, and now has osteoarthritis degeneration. I was given a book of testimonies but when I was signing the consent forms and release of liability, I became suspicious of it being experimental and not approved by the FDA. Can you shed any light on the liposuction that extracts stem cells from your own fat in the belly and then injected back into the joint? Dr. —– would be in charge of injecting it in the joint after the extraction. He works at —–.
After cancelling my appointment, the receptionist said I should have done my research before making my decision and directed me to Cell Surgical Network. She said Dr. —– is affiliated with that organization. But I could not find how to maneuver through this site. I was supposed to then go to Stem cell resolution(or revelation) Not sure which one. I didn’t find anything. I was truly afraid to go through with it in ignorance. Can you please help me settle my wonderings? I want to know is this safe or not? Will it help or not? Am I foolish or not? Am I passing up an opportunity to be pain free or jeopardizing my health?
Thank you for your time, Paul.

And my answer:

Hi —–,

These are good questions and I understand where you are coming from with the pain.
I personally wouldn’t get a fat stem cell treatment for a variety of reasons. While these cells are unlikely to produce tumors, there are some risks particularly from the systemic injection into the blood. Although the risks probably aren’t high for each individual patient, they aren’t very well understood and aren’t zero. 
Beyond the safety question, a big reason in my opinion to not do it is that there isn’t good evidence that this stuff really works so I think in the big picture that the fat stem cells sold by the various clinics around the U.S. are going to be a waste of hard-earned money. 
I also tell people: At a minimum give it as much thought as you could before buying a car — would you buy a car if you didn’t know it would work? If there was no information on MPG, no warranty, and no crash safety data at all? 
You mentioned the FDA and also a group called Cell Surgical Network. Check out this recent FDA action via the Department of Justice in federal court (scroll down about half way): https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm607257.htm. For me this is another reason to pause.
My best wishes to you,
Paul
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