Orthopedic surgeons in Austin are injecting bone marrow stem cells into knee joints to reduce inflammation

Texas Docs Injecting Stem Cells  (Bilione Young @ OTW)

Dr. Robert Johnson, an orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Texas, took stem cells from the bone marrow of the hip of a 59-year-old man and injected it back into the patient’s knee joints. The result? Johnson said the stem cells reduced inflammation and pain and then became the cartilage that the man was missing.

Johnson is part of a nonprofit medical group called MedRebels—funded primarily by two local medical product and research companies. The operating premise of MedRebels is that more people could stay active and possibly disease free in the future if the medical community would give regenerative medicine and adult stem cells a chance.

Johnson has been using adult stem cell therapies on his patients with spine fusions and other joint problems. The therapy is done on an outpatient basis. Johnson has had to do a second procedure on a few patients when the pain came back after a year or so. The risks, he said, are minimal including the risk of infection at the injection points in the bone and any risk that comes along with sedation. The long-term effects are still unknown.

This is a biologic step,” said Johnson. “This gets away from metal and plastic. This is recruiting the body to heal itself, and I think it’s a quantum leap ahead of everything else.

One of MedRebels’ biggest backers, Celling Technologies based in Austin, is working on more than 30 adult stem cell research projects. MedRebels Scientist Dr. Ted Sand points out that, since about 2001, veterinarians have been using body fat stem cells from horses to repair the animals’ own tendon and ligament tears and joint problems.

Researchers in Austin hope to duplicate the success vets have had with animals in humans. Sand said bone marrow stem cells can degenerate with age, but research suggests the fat derived stem cells do not. The chances for complications in therapy are lower in the stem cell collection from fat than from bone marrow. “There are a lot more regenerative cells in fat on a per volume basis than there is in bone marrow,” said Sand.

Johnson and other MedRebels look for a day when adult stem cells from bone marrow and body fat could be used to not just repair bones and tissue but life threatening diseases.

“I sort of feel like a little kid who wants to rush into the birthday party but is kind of holding back for the right moment,” said Johnson. “I feel this is a dam that’s going to burst. I don’t know when. I think eventually this will be the standard of care. I think most people around the country will be doing it.”

Other doctors and researchers are skeptical of MedRebels’ motivation and are concerned that MedRebels is pushing treatment that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.