Hundreds of stem cell clinics in the United States are promoting stem cell treatments for knee osteoarthritis without solid evidence that they help to relieve pain or repair broken cartilage (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons March 6, 2018 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Abstracts P0147 and P0265). A comprehensive review of the world’s literature on the use of unchanged stem cells used to treat osteoarthritis and localized cartilage knee damage found 420 studies the authors deemed weakly designed and found only six studies they felt were randomized and well-controlled (J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2016;98:1511-1521). These six trials showed some benefit, but the benefits were nearly the same as what would be expected from placebo treatments (J Knee Surg, Published online July 24, 2017).
Why Non-Research Stem Cell Treatments are Unlikely to be Effective
Stem cells are primordial cells that can become any tissue such as bone, muscle, cartilage and so forth. Very promising research is being done now at several medical schools in which the DNA in stem cells is altered to make them become cartilage cells. However, the commercial clinics that offer stem-cell treatments today are taking blood or fat from patients, extracting the stem cells, concentrating them in a centrifuge, and then giving back the unchanged stem cells that they took from the patient. Concentrating a person’s stem cells without changing them into cartilage or into stem cells that produce cartilage could possibly be therapeutic, but concentrating stem cells by centrifuging has not been shown to produce enough cartilage to heal damaged joints.
At present, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that human cells can only be minimally manipulated and not be combined with other substances such as drugs. Since changing the DNA in human cells exceeds minimal manipulation, doctors cannot legally create large amounts of cartilage stem cells for injection unless they are part of a certified research project. See my previous report, Be Wary of Stem Cell Clinics