Jason Dragoo’s Stanford University research team gets 100 to 200 inquiries every day from people interested in joining its clinical trial studying the use of stem cells to treat knee injuries.
The interest highlights a growing demand for the use of stem cells derived from a person’s own bone marrow or fat to treat orthopedic injuries. Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease where the protective tissue or cartilage around a joint wears down, is a particular focus of inquiry.
Stem cells have the potential to develop into different kinds of cells, making them a potentially valuable tool in treating orthopedic injuries.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cracked down on the explosion of private stem-cell clinics that offer treatments for everything from muscular dystrophy to osteoarthritis. It has accused clinics of making false claims and illegally growing human stem cells extracted from patients, which is allowed in many other countries but not the U.S.
But a growing number of academic research centers and hospitals are offering stem-cell injections to treat orthopedic injuries in a way the FDA condones, by extracting bone marrow or fat, which is spun in a centrifuge before being inserted into the patient’s joint in the same day.
Due to a lack of research, the treatments generally aren’t covered by insurance companies and can cost thousands of dollars. Still, demand is high.
“There are just so many aging baby boomers who want to be active,” says Joanne Borg-Stein, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. “They are either too young for a joint replacement or their arthritis isn’t bad enough, and they’ve done other treatments and they’re not able to stay active.”
She says requests for stem-cell injections are outpacing the research on it, which is scant. Experts say such injections can reduce inflammation and pain but it’s unclear how long their effects last or if they help regenerate cartilage.
By Sumathi Reddy | The Wall Street Journal
Image Credit: Science Source