Fat vs Bone Marrow Stem Cells for Arthritis?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

fat vs bone marrow stem cells

Way back in 2011, before most physicians had heard of stem cells, I sat down to look at the medical research on the comparisons of fat vs bone marrow stem cells for cartilage repair. These past several weeks, I’ve had a few doctors who have been trained at weekend stem cell courses ask me to send them more information on that comparison. So I updated my 2011 infographic with current information. At the end of the day there isn’t much of a comparison, stem cells from fat pale in comparison to those from bone marrow for cartilage repair by a score of 13 to 0.

The issue of fat vs bone marrow stem cells to treat arthritis is a contentious one. It’s a bit like the Coke versus Pepsi debate of the 80s and 90s or Democrats versus the Republicans – it can cause normally stoic doctors to get “riled up”. For us it was never that way, as we’ve used cells of all tissue sources and types of stem cells, i.e. from fat, bone marrow, and synovial fluid as well as same day isolates and cultured cells. In the end, we let the medical literature do the talking and anybody that spends any time reading the research sees that bone marrow stem cells used to treat arthritis has a huge advantage over fat. We’ll explore that in some detail this week through a few blog posts.

Consider my little fat vs bone marrow stem cells inforgraphic (click above or here for a full sized version). To create this I searched the US National Library of Medicine from 2007-2015 looking for studies that compared the two stem cell types head to head. Each icon in the larger infographic links to the abstract for that study in PubMed. The conclusions are stark – bone marrow smokes fat for creating new cartilage. I found 13 studies showing bone marrow was better than fat and no head to head comparison were the cartilage repair or components could be quantified where fat stem cells won this contest.

The conclusion? For cartilage repair, the research is clear and points in one direction – bone marrow stem cells. This week I’ll examine other aspects of the comparison between the two types of stem cells. Stay tuned!

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

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.
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