The renaissance in healing using regenerative and stem cell medicine is well underway.
From Stanford scientists using injected stem cells to help stroke patients walk again to 3-D printing of liver and cartilage, the headlines have been exploding with exciting research and stunning outcomes in stem cell science.
In orthopedics, regenerative treatments have been shown to heal partially torn ligaments, regrow cartilage, stabilize joints, decrease inflammation and pain, and improve function—all without surgery or prolonged recovery times.
As more of us have become aware of the promise of regenerative medicine, many patients with arthritis and soft tissue injuries have flooded local clinics looking for a solution for their pain. Most have found relief. Some, however, have come in too late for these non-surgical treatments to help.
Regenerative therapies in orthopedic medicine are surprisingly effective. In many studies, over 80 percent of patients have shown improvement—both in levels of pain and in ability to function and enjoy life—as a result of these non-surgical, natural treatments. However, since most of these therapies work with the patient’s own healing systems, the earlier in the process we can intervene, the better the outcome.
Once arthritis has progressed to the point of bony remodeling, once a tendon tear progresses to complete rupture, once the injury has been in place long enough for additional, compensatory changes or central pain to evolve, regenerative medicine is limited in what it can do. The key, as in many fields of medicine, is to catch the process early.
There are three main categories of regenerative treatments available for sports injuries and arthritis:
Prolotherapy: Dating back 2,500 years, prolotherapy is the purposeful stimulation of the body’s innate capacity to heal wounds and repair injured tissues. In this treatment, dry needling and injection of dextrose or other solutions stimulate the area that need repair to start the healing cascade. This therapy has been shown to stabilize joints, strengthen ligaments and tendons, and directly control nerve pain.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP): This treatment involves the injection of concentrated platelets and growth factors — as collected from the patient’s blood during an in-office procedure—into an area of injury or arthritis. The growth factor concentrate signals local progenitor cells to replace the injured area with healthy tissue.
Stem Cell Therapies: The patient’s own mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow or fat are used to deliver stem cells, growth factors (PRP/platelet lysate), and supportive cells locally to the site of damage or arthritis, or intravascularly to distant organs and nerves. Mesenchymal stem cells are known to differentiate into cartilage, bone, muscle, ligament, and nerve cells; control inflammation; and attract other stem cells and growth factors to the injured area.
These therapies can be used alone or in combination to help correct instability or damage in the musculoskeletal system. Mild to moderate arthritis and soft tissue injuries frequently respond well, and early intervention can slow or prevent progression to more severe arthritis, and additional soft tissue damage. While those patients with more advanced disease can still obtain some relief, the earlier you can start healing, the better the outcome.
A former NIH fellow, Dr. Alexandra Bunyak is focused on bringing this emerging research to her patients.
She is quadruple board certified in Sports Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Holistic Medicine, and Pain Medicine. She trained at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Northwestern’s Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Dr. Bunyak will be speaking about regenerative therapies and recent research advances at her upcoming Good Life Lecture Series talk at the Carlsbad Dove Library: Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m. (free). Seating is limited.
As part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, she’s also giving a special two-hour lecture about recent research and the future promise of stem cell therapy and other regenerative options Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. (National University, Carlsbad, $15). The talk will be repeated Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. (Mission San Luis Rey, $15). For more information and to enroll, visit csusm.edu/el/olli/.
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