Whether it is football, baseball or soccer, professional athletes put their bodies on the line every time they step on the field. At risk is their physical health, their professional career, their financial future and their team’s future. That is why teams spend big money to hire the best doctors and the best trainers, presumably because they are at the forefront of the latest technology and treatments. Peyton Manning’s neck, Bartolo Colon’s shoulder, Chris Johnson’s knee…just a few of the famous injuries that have been treated with stem cell therapy to maximize healing and speed up recovery. According to those in the medical industry, this is just the start of the many people who will use this therapy to heal injuries and degenerative joint problems.
Dr. James Andrews
The eminent orthopedic surgeon, who has treated many of today’s top athletes, indicated in a recent interview on the Dan Patrick Show that biologics were going to be the next big medical breakthrough. Biologics such as stem cell therapy, tissue engineering and gene therapy would become widely used to treat aging joints and injuries.
So, what is the latest stem cell research?
According to a recent Reuter’s article, Scientists “reset” stem cells to study start of human development, “British and Japanese scientists have figured out a way to ‘reset’ human stem cells to their earliest state, opening up a new realm of research into the start of human development and potentially life-saving regenerative medicines.”
Why is this significant?
Because these cells may represent the “real starting point for formation of tissues”. Humans experience their most significant growth early on when stem cells are human pluripotent stem cells, or “self-replicating” cells. As we age, those stem cells become less potent and less effective. This is why embryonic stem cells are considered the “holy grail” of healing injuries and diseases that currently have no cure. Because of the controversy of using embryonic stem cells, the possibility that scientists have found a way to “reset” stem cells to their earliest state could mean a major step forward in treating debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, strokes and diabetes, not to mention joint disorders and injuries.
Can Stem Cell Therapy Help Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting an estimated 27 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). It is a form of arthritis that is generally associated with the breakdown of cartilage at the weight-bearing joints, due to natural wear and tear from everyday tasks you perform. Those most affected by osteoarthritis are athletes and older people. Physical symptoms include pain, swelling, and loss of motion. Lifestyle effects may include anxiety, depression, limitation of daily activities, job limitations, and difficulty participating in personal and family joys and responsibilities.
Stem cells are currently being used in joint care because of their ability to make different types of cells. Your own stem cells, when injected into your body, have a higher chance of being accepted. This allows them the opportunity of taking on their new role in your body. By using your own stem cells –in this case- in the joint that has started to lose its cartilage, the cells will “transform” and encourage cartilage growth, or hold off its wear and tear. The stem cells will increase the cartilage growth in the injected location and slow the progress of osteoarthritis. This also lowers the chance of infection, rejection, a surgery-related complication, and future joint-related replacement and follow-up procedures. Since the cells are coming from your own body fat, your body will be more likely to accept it and allow it to grow. For these reasons, stem cells are becoming a more beneficial alternative to joint-related surgeries.
Stem Cell Research Pros and Cons
The morale issue of using embryonic stem cells is beat left for another article. However, the use of adult stem cells has a lot of pros and few cons.
The natural healing benefits of stem cell therapy for joint pain are becoming more widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment. Stem cell therapy is a minimally invasive procedure allowing you to get back to work quickly. Tissue regeneration and repair will perhaps wipe out the need for certain surgeries and the long and painful recovery periods. Joint replacements could become obsolete, except in certain cases, and our quality of life could be extended far beyond that of our parents.
The biggest current draw back is the cost. Since most insurance companies do not yet cover the treatment, it is usually an out-of-pocket expense. However, if you compare the costs of stem cell therapy vs surgery, then a different picture can emerge.
Up to this point, stem cell therapy has been less effective for older people because their stem cells are less pristine. Alternative treatments like Platelet Rich Plasma Injections, Prolotherapy or Medical Ozone Therapy may be more beneficial for elderly patients. However, this new development in being able to ‘reset’ human stem cells offers hope to all of us for a pain-free future and greater quality of life.
As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition.