Fat vs. Bone Marrow Stem Cells in Orthopedics: More Research Showing Marrow is Better

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We don’t much care where you get your stem cells, as long as the source of the stem cells matches the tissue you’re trying to repair. The problem with stem cells is that certain sources produce stem cells more capable of repairing certain tissues and stem cells from other sources are less capable. The general rule of thumb is, the closer the stem cells are to the structure in need or repair, the better they are at repairing that area. This makes sense at face value, as these resident stem cells in all of our tissues have a role in maintaining and repairing that local organ or tissue. As an example, fat stem cells from your belly or thigh would be good at repairing the local tissues like skin, nerves, blood vessels, etc… So it wasn’t surprising to see yet another study showing that bone marrow stem cells are better at repairing bone than fat based stem cells. This fits with many other studies showing that bone marrow stem cells are much better at repairing orthopedic tissues than fat derived stem cells. This again makes sense, as why would stem cells from belly fat have any role in repairing bone? At the end of the day, rooting for one type of stem cell because that’s all the doctor knows how to harvest is like rooting for only one stem cell sports team and not recognizing that all stem cell teams have their positives and negatives. For example, stem cells derived from fat are much better for cosmetic work and structural fat grafts than stem cells derived from bone marrow. So why fit a square peg into a round hole or use a hammer when a wrench is needed? Use the stem cell source that fits the job!

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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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