Stem Cell FAQ

Stem Cells - Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and answers relating to stem cells and treatments.

What is a stem cell?

A stem cell is a brand-new cell known as a precursor cell that has not yet determined which cell it will become. When a cell is in this state, it has the remarkable ability to assist other cells in regeneration, control inflammation that leads to pain and further damage to tissue, and direct many others cells critical in the development of new tissue. They function somewhat like a coach for a football team as they direct many critical plays to win the game of tissue repair. It is important for patient to understand that stem cells do not just simply differentiate into new tissue but direct the whole process of tissue repair of existing cells and regeneration of new ones.

What can stem cells be used to treat?

Stem cells are being used in clinical practice and throughout research to regenerate most tissue or heal large sections of tissue damage throughout the body and central nervous system. At our clinic, we utilize bone marrow, fat mesenchymal tissue and/or umbilical cord blood to regenerate arthritic tissue in areas such as the spine, knees, hip region, pelvis, shoulders, hands and feet. Stem cells have been shown to incite tissue regeneration for cartilage, bone, tendon, muscle and ligaments. At Spectrum Health Stem Cell Center our physicians have been treating patients with stem cell transplants for longer than most clinics in Wisconsin.

What is the difference between bone marrow and adipose mesenchymal stem cells versus umbilical cord tissue commonly being used in stem cell therapies?

Bone marrow stem cells are derived from a source of cells that most closely match tissue origin for many orthopedic injuries such as cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendon damage and bone deterioration. With Bone marrow many different cells are extracted and isolated that play critical steps in tissue repair. This source of treatment is supported by the most clinical research and is seen as the gold standard for stem cell therapies. However, as a patient gets older it becomes harder to capture the amount of stem cells from bone marrow as it become depleted in the elderly years. Adipose (fat) mesenchymal tissue also originates from a very similar source to orthopedic injuries and is supported by clinical trials and a large amount of anecdotal experience from clinics worldwide. It has been provided in clinic practice for a fewer number of years and does not have as much robust research supporting it as bone marrow therapies. Yet, the data showing these benefits is accumulating daily in new trials and in-patient treatments. This treatment type can sometimes be preferred over bone marrow in the elderly due to an ability to extract a higher volume of stem cells secondary to the above aforementioned limitations of bone marrow depletion. Umbilical cord blood is the most inferior to the above and supported by the least amount of research. In fact, when concerning common applications to the knees, shoulders, hip and spine there does appear to be little support for this cell-based product. There is also some credible belief amongst many leaders within regenerative medicine that the thawing and irradiation process leaves few viable and living cells. Be wary of clinics that only provide these substandard products as outcome studies do not exist and long-term adverse effects are unknown.

What are the side effects of stem cell transplantation?

There are few side effects of stem cell therapy because of the use of a patient’s own cells and its minimally invasive nature. There is no rejection to cell products and a patient only has some mild tenderness for a few days following the procedure. Unlike surgery, patients never lose their mobility while resuming activities of normal living very rapidly. There is a very low rate of infection and no concerns for blood clots or pneumonias as seen with surgery. Finally, unlike surgical changes, if the procedure is ineffective for the patient then they still have all options open as they are never worse than prior to the procedure.

Do our Doctors use the most advanced techniques available to achieve a successful procedure?

Our physicians attend annual conferences and symposiums to provide the most advanced cell biologics available. We also perform all procedures under ultrasound or fluoroscopic guidance so patients can feel comfortable knowing the stem cells have been transplanted to the tissue that is damaged. Many clinics providing stem cell therapies do not have staff trained in the use of advanced needle guidance procedures and this should be factored in each patient’s assessment in reaching a successful outcome.

How much do stem cell therapies cost and does insurance cover?

Currently these stem cell procedures are not covered by insurance. This will likely change in the coming years due to a surprising amount of evidence mounting in its effectiveness. Until then these procedures are payed as an out of pocket expense or through medical loan companies that have streamlined financing. Many loan companies will finance the medical procedure over many years to reduce the burden on patients thereby making costly procedures easily available. We current work with Parasail loans to finance many of our patients’ procedures.

Our procedures vary in cost depending on how complex. For example, a single knee procedure cost $4500 and this includes either bone marrow or adipose mesenchymal tissue and a platelet rich plasma or platelet lysate. We also utilize an extracellular fiber matrix which is one of the most advanced biologics available with high regenerative properties for tissue repair. The market average cost for this procedure can be much higher at competing clinics and we pride ourselves in providing the most cutting-edge regenerative techniques that people can afford at a reasonable price point. When we perform more than one stem cell joint injection, then a 50% discount is applied to the second treatment. Both treatments must be performed on the same day for this discount.