Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that may impact multiple joints with varying degrees of severity. It impacts over 25 million people with nearly $90 billion spent annually for treatment in the United States.
With the new advances of modern medicine, stem cell therapy has brought the ability to treat the associated symptoms of osteoarthritis – like pain and stiffness – and hopefully delay the progression of the underlying disease.
"While it often sounds appealing, stem cell therapy is a new treatment that is poorly understood. There are many websites and advertisements for “curing” osteoarthritis; however, there are no proven uses of pain medications or therapies that can delay or reverse the progressive joint destruction that occurs with osteoarthritis." says Dr. Kelly Cunningham.
Here are some of the top questions my patients ask when considering Stem Cell Therapy/PRP.
What are stem cells?
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), or what we commonly call “stem cells,” are precursor cells that haven’t decided yet what they are going to be in the body. They can differentiate into multiple forms including bone, cartilage, fat and other connective tissues. They play a significant role in the reparative processes throughout the human body.
How are stem cells collected?
They may be harnessed from , bone marrow (preferred), fat, synovial or umbilical cord tissue.
Why are stem cells thought to ease osteoarthritis?
Mesenchymal stem cells have several benefits including the following:
- Anti-apoptotic (decrease cell death)
- Anti-fibrotic (decrease fibrous tissue formation)
These precursor cells can mature into cartilage. Their reparative nature has led to the hope that such cells may modify the destructive processes associated with osteoarthritis.
What have studies shown about the use of stem cells to treat osteoarthritis?
In several studies combining arthroscopic techniques and combined injections (MSCs combined with the platelet-rich plasma or hyaluronic acid), there has been a hint of regenerative capacity of these MSCs. It is difficult to tell whether this is truly a reparative process versus just the effects of the MSCs’ anti-inflammatory properties.
Limited studies have reported pain relief for over a year utilizing combined adipose derived stromal cell (ADSC) and PRP injections. A recent meta-analysis of 18 studies* found MSC injections were effective in the knee for up to 24 months when done with an arthroscopic debridement to remove damaged tissue, or if the osteoarthritis changes in the knee were mild.
Kelly Cunningham, MD
Sports can be rough on joints and cartilage, especially shoulders, knees, and hips. Kelly Cunningham, MD, has cared for many young and mature athletes whose joints take a beating day in and day out. He welcomes patients from Austin, Texas, and its surrounding communities to experience the cutting-edge technology and skill offered by his team at Austin OrthoBiologics.
Dr. Cunningham works with each athlete to develop an individual treatment plan that emphasizes the least invasive treatments possible with a goal of minimal recuperation and downtime. He combines rigorous standards and quality of care with experience and insight, integrating the best new techniques into the care of each patient.
His patients have included skilled athletes in football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, including members of the Dallas Cowboys at their Austin training camp, Austin Ice Bats hockey players, Southwestern University athletes, and many other college and high school athletes. He served for 15 years as a traveling team physician for the men’s alpine downhill US Olympic Ski Team, providing on-the-hill medical race coverage in North America and Europe, including qualifying races for the Winter Olympics.
As a sports medicine specialist, Dr. Cunningham also treats many seasoned weekend warriors such as runners, skiers (downhill, snowboard, and water), and tennis and golf enthusiasts.
After medical school and residency training in Dallas, he completed a sports medicine/knee fellowship with renowned orthopedic specialist Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colorado, and underwent further shoulder training in England and Canada.
While with Dr. Steadman, the originator of the popular microfracture cartilage treatment technique, he developed a strong interest in the care of cartilage injuries and now has more than 25 years of experience with surgical microfracture and related procedures. In recent years, he has adopted cutting-edge injection and surgical techniques as they’re developed for use in these acute and chronic problems.
He has studied extensively in Europe, where stem cell therapy is time-tested for patient use.
In fact, he travels to France and Italy later this month to collaborate with renowned stem cell and cartilage repair researchers and surgeons.
References: American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.
References: Austin Ortho + Biologics