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In the News

Cell therapy: A promising alternative to surgery

October 21, 2016

Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Platelet Rich Plasma

Regenerative medicine is the latest game-changer in orthopedics, utilizing a patient’s own cells to accelerate repair and recovery. Various treatments like platelet rich plasma (PRP) and mesenchymal stem cell therapy (MSC) have shown to be promising non-surgical  options for the some more commonly seen orthopedic issues. Osteoarthritis, tendonitis, scar tissue prevention and pain/inflammation control have all been treated with these therapies.

What are mesenchymal stem cells (MSC)?

MSCs are undifferentiated cells that have the unique ability to transform into cells of different structures. They can be found throughout the body, but are concentrated in certain areas like bone marrow and abdominal fat. A physician can remove some of these stem cells and inject them where needed to encourage remodeling of the surrounding tissues. There is evidence that MSCs are capable of “plugging” small areas of lost articular cartilage as in early arthritis.

What is PRP?

Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is a concentration of growth factors and anti-inflammatory components that comes from processed blood. A sample of the patient’s blood is spun in a centrifuge and separated into three isolates: Platelet Poor Plasma (PPP), Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and Red Blood Cells (RBC). The PRP is then collected and used to treat a variety of orthopedic injuries. The growth factors encourage the healing of soft tissues and the anti-inflammatory components can decrease pain and swelling. This treatment has been used more commonly than stem cells.

Which is better?

Exciting results have been published in research journals and many patients have reported tremendous results from MSC and PRP therapy. To decide which is better is tough. It really depends on what orthopedic issue that is being treated. An analogy that has been proposed by other physicians is to compare PRP therapy as fertilizing and watering a plant and MSC therapy as planting new seeds.

Unfortunately neither of these treatments will be covered by insurance and the out of pocket expense can be large, but the results can help reduce the need for a surgery. In the long run this can help save a patient money and time. Regardless of the cost, regenerative medicine like PRP and MSC is the future and more advances are made every year.

Authors: Richard Cunningham, M.D. and Matt Vinnal, ATC. Dr. Cunningham is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine with a particular focus on complex knee and shoulder problems. Vinnal is an Athletic Trainer to Dr. Richard Cunningham M.D. 

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