Miracle Or Snake Oil?

The medical field is so ever changing that keeping current in advancements has caused most of us to “catch up with the sun,” but it’s sinking.

Stem Cell and Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy

When patients come to me with the same curiosity for a particular miraculous cure-all, it forces us to investigate what it is. I have heard of stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, as well as its claims for results when modern medicine fails to answer. Sometimes, when hope supersedes science, the risks may be more than the patient can handle. 

Stem cells are defined as cells that can self-renew and differentiate. They can duplicate themselves and become almost any cell in the body. The most common type of stem cell used in therapy are mesenchymal stem cells. Researchers believe that mesenchymal stem cells could repair tissue associated with arthritis, such as cartilage. 

Where do stem cells come from?

Many of the clinics use the patient’s own fat tissue, blood or bone marrow to cultivate these mesenchymal stem cells. More recently, birth-related products including discarded placentas, amniotic fluid, umbilical cords and cord blood are manufacturing the stem cells needed. 

In other countries, embryonic and aborted fetuses have been used to obtain stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are currently banned in the United States.

microscopic image of blood cells

Tissue Regeneration and Healing with Blood

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy involves taking the patient’s own blood and centrifuging it down so a substantial increase of platelets is in the plasma. The therapeutic injections have a higher concentration of platelets than normal blood. Platelets do not have any restorative or healing properties but secrete growth factors and proteins necessary for cell division, tissue regeneration and promote healing. 

Doctors theorize that PRP might inhibit inflammation, stimulate formation of new cartilage, increase production of synovial fluid, and alter the patient’s pain receptors. PRP has been used in conjunction with stem cell therapy to promote the healing process.

The only product that the FDA has approved for use in the United States is blood-forming stem cells that is cultured from cord blood. These stem cells are approved for limited use in patients that are affected with blood disorders like leukemia. However, treatments may avoid FDA regulations if the stem cells came from your body and the cells are “minimally manipulated.” 

person's arm with blood being drawn in syringe

At the moment there are no new approved stem cell therapies. This past year a number of hospitalizations have sprung up across the nation that involved stem cell injections that were cultivated with umbilical cord blood. Patients were testing positive for E. coli. 

Make sure the procedure is FDA approved or being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) before trying a new therapy or treatment. If you are considering stem cell therapy, then check out the 26-item list of questions listed on the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) website. 

To yours in better health!

Dr. Shawn Snow author biography

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