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Regenerative Medicine: How New Technologies such as PRP May Offer Hope for Treating Pain

Regenerative Medicine

It’s hard to keep up with the speed of technology, but with advancements come new ideas. Within the medical industry, one of the newest trends is the rapidly growing field of regenerative medicine.

At its core, regenerative medicine is the delivery of a specific product to a damaged or degenerative tissue with the hopes of restoring tissue and organ function. If current treatment options have been tried and proven to be inadequate, regenerative medicine can now be considered as another option that may improve functionality.

Despite being considered a relatively new field, regenerative medicine has been around for several decades, beginning as “tissue engineering” in 1933. Advances continue, and today, under the umbrella of regenerative medicine are several forms of treatment using a variety of stem cells.  

The defining characteristics of a stem cell is its ability to create more cells that resemble the cells around it based on its environment. Think of a stem cell as a blank canvas that can take on the shape and function of the other cells it is close to. For example, a stem cell can be placed around cardiac (heart) cells and become an actual functioning cardiac cell.

When we think about stem cell treatment in the United States, most of the treatments discussed are related to non-embryonic stem cell treatment, derived from adult tissue such as placenta, blood, the umbilical cord, and adipose tissue, just to name a few.

Platelet Rich Plasma treatment, or PRP, is very popular given its association with professional athletes. PRP is a patient’s own blood that is spun down in a machine which will allow for the blood to separate into its various parts. The plasma, which contains growth factors and platelets, is drawn from the solution and injected into afflicted tendons, ligaments, muscles or joints due to its healing property. Several published studies cite the benefits of PRP treatment, thus adding to the number of options available for treating specific musculoskeletal ailments.

Stem cells are also obtained from adipose tissue via needle biopsy or liposuction. The sample must be minced, profusely washed, chemically treated, incubated and neutralized. Each stem cell option presents its own risks, however benefits realized include amniotic tissue aiding wound healing, and uses in surgeries to speed up tissue repair.

As progressive as stem cell treatment is, it unfortunately is not covered by most commercial insurance policies. The out-of-pocket cost can be anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The procedure begins with the isolation of stem cells which can be laborious, but the price for an injection of stem cells into a major joint may be significantly less when compared to a joint replacement surgery.

If a patient has exhausted all forms of conservative treatment, stem cell treatment can be discussed as a potential alternative to surgery. It is very important, however, to understand that regenerative medicine is in its infancy and great deal of research still needs to be done before the use of these products becomes an accepted standard of care.

This article was authored by OrthoAtlanta physiatrist, Yolanda Scott, MD, a medical doctor specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) providing non-surgical orthopedic care, including non-surgical spine, musculoskeletal medicine, functional medicine, and regenerative medicine. The article has been featured in full or in part in Scripts, a Journal of the Cobb County Medical Society (Q2-2018), Chapel Hill News and Views, and the Douglas County Sentinel.

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