Use Caution If Pursuing STEM Cell Treatments for Osteoarthritis

The medical community is incredibly excited about the potential for stem cell treatments, and for good reason as medical breakthroughs for the treatment of osteoarthritis have not occurred in over 20 years. The regenerative properties of stem cells have shown potential to slow or change some of the factors that cause osteoarthritis in early nonclinical studies. However, a lot still needs to be understood as the highest quality trials in humans have not shown the same outcomes. There are some medical clinics – sometimes called stem cell or regenerative medicine – trying to adapt them into their practice and market stem cell treatments directly to patients. The Omaha World Herald recently wrote an article about this topic.

We occasionally get questions about these treatments from our patients, and here’s what we say:

  • These treatments are considered experimental because the medical research thus far has determined that while they are fairly unlikely to result in harm or complications if done correctly, they aren’t likely to regrow or reverse the damage to the cartilage from osteoarthritis. Sometimes clinics claim superior pain control from stem cell treatments, but high quality studies do not show better results compared to traditional and insurance-covered treatments like medications, injections or less costly options such as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP).
  • The only stem cell treatment that is FDA approved and covered by insurance is for use in treatment of blood cancers
  • These treatments are costly, in the range of $5,000-$10,000. That is a lot to pay for a treatment that, according to medical evidence, is a long shot to work.
  • Over time, research will likely lead to improved understanding of how stem cells work. As the evidence evolves, so will our stance on stem cell treatments because we will continue to follow the literature closely to provide the leading edge and highest quality care to our patients.

If you do have a strong desire and financial means to pursue stem cell treatment, we would advise to caution if you encounter the following:

  • Someone who claims stem cells can be used to treat almost every disease
  • You do not see a physician, the physician is not an MD or DO, or not board certified
  • You are given lots of success stories, but no data or percentages about how likely the treatment is to be effective
  • A new clinic that claims to have treated a high number of patients despite just opening

If you have any further questions about stem cell treatments, consult your physician.

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