“One day, patients will have access to regenerative medicine treatments that will circumvent the complications of organ donation”, said Sharlini Sankaran, Ph.D., executive director of Duke’s Regeneration Next Initiative.
This quote summarizes the revolutionary potential of regenerative medicine. A term that was coined in 1992 and still has decades of discoveries within it. The most tangible and accessible forms in this field today are platelet-rich plasma (PRP) & stem cell therapy. They are both relatively unknown and spark confusion; however traditional options like surgery and cortisone have their own unknowns and risks that most people don’t know.
Let’s take a look at all of these elements so you can make wise health decisions today and in the future.
What is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) & Stem Cell Therapy Regenerative Medicine?
PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections and stem cell therapy are the two leading methods in today’s regenerative medicine landscape. These two terms are often used interchangeably because they both require a blood draw and a centrifuge, but they are different procedures on a scientific level.
Platelet-rich plasma injections involve drawing a small sample of a patient’s blood, sometimes as little as 20 milliliters (about one tablespoon) depending on operation type. The blood is placed in a centrifuge, which spins rapidly and separates blood components. The separated plasma is then prepared for re-entry into various areas of the body. This can speed up recovery time for many injuries, along with additional benefits.
Treatments areas include:
- Scalp: Prevent hair loss or improve hair growth
- Knee: Knee injuries such as a torn ACL or osteoarthritis
- Ankle: Sprains, plantar fasciitis, etc
- Hamstring: Pulled or strained muscles
- Shoulder: Rotator cuff tear, labrum tear, ligament damage, adhesive capsulitis
- Elbow: Tennis elbow, golfers elbow, ligament damage
- Wrist: Carpal tunnel, ligament damage
- Fingers: Trigger finger, joint inflammation
- Low back: pain: SI ligament laxity, herniated discs, sciatic pain
- Hip: labrum tear, gluteus tear, piriformis tear
On the other hand, stem cell therapy involves extracting adult stem cells from bone marrow or fat. These cells have powerful regenerative properties that are used to treat various knee or shoulder injuries, arthritis and cartilage damage. Unlike embryonic stem cells research and procedures which are considered controversial, this method uses adult stem cells that are naturally present in our bodies.
The power behind stem cells is that they can become any type of cell when injected into an affected area – muscle cell, red blood cell, heart cell, brain cell, etc. This ability to replicate the function of other cells is what spurs speedy recovery from injury or following surgery. Results can be noticed quickly, with some patients reporting pain relief after 1-2 treatments.
Stem cell therapy treatment has been used for:
- Speeding up injury recovery
- Pain management with the goal of reducing pain medication
- Increase range of motion and flexibility
- Reduce Injury risk
- Treat muscle compensation where muscles develop asymmetrically
- Treat or decrease nerve damage
- Wound healing, prevention of scar tissue formations
Additionally, doctors have been using stem cell therapy to treat a collection of diseases and ailments:
- Hair loss
- Vision impairment
- Orthopedic and musculoskeletal issues
- Post-surgery wounds or cuts
- Injuries involving the spinal cord or brain
- Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke and congestive heart failure (a perennial leading cause of death in the United States)
- Diabetes and pancreatic-related conditions
- Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s
What is The Difference Between PRP Injections and Stem Cell Therapy?
As you can see, these treatments involve a similar process, are used for many of the same aliments and have similar benefits. The difference is with PRP treatments, blood with a high concentration of platelets are used to treat target areas. Platelets are clotting cells of our blood which promote natural healing.
Stem cell treatments rely on the presence of adult stem cells, formally called Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) which adapt and merge with cells they’re mixed with to perform healing. Learn more about the difference between these regenerative medicine procedures.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Surgery Options
For those who don’t feel comfortable with regenerative medicine methods, the other option is traditional surgery and cortisone injections for inflammation. These options are used often, in fact, knee replacement operations doubled in frequency from 1999 to 2008, with 3.5 million procedures a year expected by 2030.
Despite its prevalence, you should understand the risks and potential side effects. Because of the uptick in operations, many patients are getting knee replacement or other surgeries when they should not be considered a candidate. For instance, if a patient’s knee arthritis isn’t severe enough, they will likely not see drastic changes and won’t feel any improvement in their quality of life. One-third of surveyed surgery patients still have chronic pain and 1-in-5 are left feeling dissatisfied, according to a study by BMJ.
Despite the rapid growth in surgeries of all forms over the past decade, it wasn’t always easy to find surgeon success rates or frequency of follow up surgeries. That changed a few years ago when journalism nonprofit ProPublica created a database of searchable surgeon statistics called Surgeon Scorecard. You can now look up success rate information on eight popular surgeries conducted by 16,019 surgeons nationwide.
2. Hip Replacement
3. Gallbladder Removal, Laparoscopic
4. Lumbar Spinal Fusion, Posterior Column
5. Lumbar Spinal Fusion, Anterior Column
6. Prostate Removal
7. Prostate Resection
8. Cervical (Neck) Spinal Fusion
Their data shows 63,173 Medicare patients were readmitted with complications between 2009 and 2013 alone, so it’s worth checking it out before you schedule any of the operations above. Nonprofit organization Consumers Checkbook created a similar site, surgeonratings.org. Their database is said to have ratings on 50,000 surgeons and has info on additional types of surgery such a heart bypass.
Pros and Cons of Cortisone Injections
Another common therapy for Tendonitis, Arthritis, post-surgery swelling and other forms of inflammation is cortisone shots. Cortisone shots are used by professional athletes to temporarily reduce pain and swelling so they can finish a game or event. The injection only requires a small needle and any joint on the body can be targeted.
The side effects of cortisone are usually temporary and not serious unless the shots are applied over and over again. The minor side effects include facial flushing as face redness is noticed by a portion of patients. High blood pressure, especially for diabetes patients, is also reported. Cortisone shots are also limited to a maximum of 3-4 total shots per year. Three consecutive shots to the same joint can actually degrade its strength. If you find yourself constantly going back for cortisone, it’s a good indication to try another method.
Additionally, cortisone side effects include:
- Joint infection
- Nerve damage
- Skin and soft tissue thinning near the injection site
- Tendon weakening or rupture
- Thinning or death of nearby bone (osteoporosis)
- Whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site
However, cortisone shots are still safe when applied appropriately and sparingly. Don’t be afraid to seek out a second doctor’s opinion if you’re worried about a cortisone treatment plan.
PRP, Stem Cell Therapy Success Rates & Research
When it comes to success rates for PRP injections and stem cell therapy, there’s much higher variance in the numbers. Since technology and science are much newer, there’s no available database or prolonged historical record.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) conducted a survey in 2018 to get some clarity. They emailed 317 regenerative medicine clinics to inquire about success rates, 36 of those clinics responded. They claimed the following success rates:
- 90 to 100 percent: 10
- 80 to 90 percent: 15
- 70 to 80 percent: 10
- 55 percent: 1
This is an extremely small sample size, but it reinforces the importance of taking your time with any potential regenerative medicine process and making sure the doctor and staff are completely comfortable with questions. Also, the same study showed a huge gap in the price difference between clinics. The low end being $1,150 and the high end being $12,000. Always do your homework when researching clinics.
PRP injections suffer from the same lack of data. However, the Mayo Clinic estimates between 40 to 70 percent of those who received PRP injections experience pain relief or symptom improvement. It’s important to remember that unlike surgery failures which can result in costly and dangerous complications, PRP injections are more low-stress and low-risk. This is why they’ve become so popular for those who have tried surgery, physical therapy and need a new option.
The Future of Medicine is Regenerative Medicine
Regenerative medicine has some negative press because of shady clinics that offer unrealistic promises. However, these are the growing pains of revolutionizing science in the field of medicine field.
In fact, one of the top medical schools in the country, Duke University, is investing millions in the future of regenerative medicine. They launched the Duke Regeneration Next Initiative in 2016 which supports more than 60 faculty working in the field. The executive director of the initiative, Sharlini Sankaran, predicts: “We will be able to use our bodies’ own innate repair mechanisms to eliminate the wait time, cost, and limited supply of organ transplantation. Instead of transplanting organs, we will know how to repair our own”.
Livv Natural is focused on being at the cutting edge of regenerative medicine, especially when it comes to platelet-rich plasma. Our PRP regenerative injections have helped patients overcome their chronic back or joint pain without undergoing any surgery. If you’re dealing with chronic pain or a nagging injury, consider booking an appointment with a regenerative medicine specialist today.