I am asked frequently in my office about stem cells and their potential use in treatment. There is much buzz in the media world about the use of stem cells in medicine. I am very interested in stem cells and how they might be used in orthopedics and sports medicine in particular. Ultimately, I think they will play a huge role in treatments. Use is very primitive now.
We know how to identify stem cells from bone marrow. We can isolate and concentrate stem cells. What we don’t know how to do is to turn them on to become specific body parts, nor do we know how to turn them off. That having been said, I do use them frequently for my patients.
For example, when I do a rotator cuff repair in the shoulder, I create bleeding vascular channels down into the bone at the repair site. One’s own stem cells are there and, perhaps turned on by the body’s own repair signal, may help improve tendon healing.
Also, during ACL reconstruction of the knee, I take bone marrow aspirates and concentrate them ( Biocue from Biomet). The new ACL graft is soaked in this concentrate full of stem cells and other growth factors prior to fixation.
We don’t have good studies yet proving that these new stem cell treatments actually improve healing, but it makes sense, causes no morbidity, and is a cutting edge biologic treatment.