Amniotic Stem Cell Injection? Hype or Science?

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amniotic stem cell injection

Can an amniotic stem cell injection help arthritis? There’s been an explosion in physicians offering this type of therapy lately, so is it for real or is it just a scam? Well, while the concept may have a little validity, currently it’s more scam than science.

This is what greets you at one web-site that advertises amniotic stem cell injection as a cure all:

“Amniotic membrane tissue provides an emerging and potential cure for a wide range of conditions.  From degenerative arthritis to wound healing problems to soft tissue injuries like rotator cuff tendonitis, stem cell injection using amniotic tissue provides favorable results.”

The idea that stem cells can help orthopedic problems, believe it or not, goes back to the 1990s. Since then, more than 5,000 patients have had their results published using stem cells from the bone marrow to treat various problems like bone and joint diseases. While this research still has a way to go, the early work done is impressive. We’re proud to say that to date, we’ve published 29% of that world’s stem cell literature in orthopedics.

The concept that there are stem cells in amniotic tissue and fluid is quite real. I’ve explored this in an amniotic stem cell review awhile back on this blog. Having said that, while there’s quite a bit of research showing that stem cells derived from your bone marrow are likely helpful in treating orthopedic conditions, how much do we have for amniotic stem cells? You would think there was a bevy of new research in this regard based on the explosion in physicians offering this type of treatment. However, there is almost nothing. In fact, after multiple searches in the U.S, National Library of Medicine, I can only find one study that used chopped up amniotic membrane that contains no stem cells to inject about 20 patients with plantar fascititis. I can find no clinical research on the use of these tissues for the healing of bone, spine or low back, knee, hip, or shoulder arthritis. There’s also nothing on shoulder rotator cuff or tendinitis or ligament/tendon tears.

Given that there’s no research on actual patients and amniotic “stem cells”, how can physicians claim that this stuff works? Most physicians who I’ve talked to who have experience in using PRP and stem cells who have used these amniotic products have been unimpressed. Part of this likely stems from the fact that as I’ve blogged before, this therapy doesn’t actually contain any stem cells. Why then are they being used? Sometimes in medicine the tail wags the dog. This is a great scale-able business model for the companies who buy amniotic tissues from one of several large tissue banks, re-bottle it, and then hire sales reps to sell it to physicians. As a result, most of the doctors using this stuff know little more about it than what the sales reps have told them. This is why many doctors believe they’re using stem cells, when they’re actually not using any viable cells at all.

The upshot? Welcome to the wild wild west of stem cells! We have so little data that amniotic tissues help orthopedic problems that it’s embarrassing, but that doesn’t stop many doctors and companies from selling miracle amniotic stem cells in a vial! Buyer beware!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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