Does Blood Have Stem Cells? Is PRP a Stem Cell Treatment?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

is prp a stem cell treatment

Every once in a while, I come across websites that claim that PRP is a stem cell treatment. While it’s hard to believe in 2017 that physicians are still making this error, given the almost-next-to-near-zero state of regenerative-medicine education for physicians in this field, I’ll believe anything. So is PRP a stem cell treatment? Nope. Let me explain.

Where Do Stem Cells Live?

The good news is that pretty much every part of your body has some sort of adult stem cell population. This includes bones, fat, muscles, tendons, organs, and so on. However, one of the places you won’t find many stem cells is in the blood. Why? While an occasional stem cell hitches a ride from point A to point B using the circulatory system, these are very rare events.

Since there are plenty of stem cells that live in the bone marrow, there is a way you can get a few stem cells from there to mobilize into the blood, but that requires heavy drugs. For example, in this rabbit study, they induced a few stem cells from the bone marrow to mobilize into the peripheral blood by giving the animals G-CSF and AMD-3100. These few cells then needed to be culture expanded (grown to bigger numbers) to end up with any significant number of cells.

As I said above, there are a few stem cells that you can find floating around in the peripheral blood in some patients. In this 2013 study, they took blood from six people and then plated it for culture expansion and found one small stem cell colony in only one of the six donors. They then cultured those cells to get any significant number. For comparison, a bone marrow sample from each donor would have shown hundreds of colonies in each flask plated with far lower volume.

Is PRP a Stem Cell Treatment: My Direct Experience with Blood-Derived Stem Cells

Many years ago, in 2008–9, we were asked by a company involved in “stem cell” banking to test their blood-derived product. The company wanted to determine if the patients who had gone through peripheral-blood apheresis after a G-CSF mobilization could use these cells for our orthopedic treatments. They sent over a number of units of blood that they had collected, and we tried to culture these cells. Regrettably, none of the blood samples they sent yielded any stem cells, and the project was abandoned.

This project was most similar to the rabbit study discussed above. Apheresis is a process whereby certain cells are removed from the blood via a machine and then the rest of the blood is returned. G-CSF is a drug called Neupogen that is often used in cancer care and has a healthy side-effect profile. In the rabbit study above, they also used AMD-3100 (plerixafor), which is a drug that was new on the market in 2008–9 and wasn’t used by the company back when we did this experiment. It also has a healthy side-effect profile.

What to Avoid?

If you see physicians who claim to obtain stem cells from blood or claim that PRP (platelet rich plasma or concentrated blood platelets) is a stem cell therapy, run fast in the other direction. These physicians don’t know what they don’t know. As you can see, these statements aren’t remotely true. If you use two heavy-handed drugs and perform apheresis and culture expand the few cells you’ll find, you can get some stem cells in a process that’s a fraction of a percent as efficient as just culturing bone marrow. However, using these drugs in a healthy patient is a risky proposition.

The upshot? Is PRP a stem cell treatment?  Absolutely not!  It’s crazy out there! Make sure the physicians you’re working with know which end is up. If they claim that they can take your blood and get loads of stem cells, find a new physician!

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14 thoughts on “Does Blood Have Stem Cells? Is PRP a Stem Cell Treatment?

  1. Robert Sorino

    That was a good read. Thank you. I do have a question. Do you have any firm reports that Stem Cell injected into the knee can grow new cartilage?If this is true. Must it be your own stem cell? Taken from you own body and processed right away and injected into your own knee, To grow new cartilage.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Robert,
      Yes, your own stem cells used in precise image guided injections are the most effective. Stem cells do not retread a joint with new cartilage, like one would retread a retread a tire. Regenexx stem cell procedures, however, regularly take bone on bone knees and improve pain and function very well. Most people are surprised to learn that Knee OA pain isn’t a lack of cartilage issue, its a nerve issue. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/getting-a-golfer-back-on-the-links-with-knee-stem-cells/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/ironman-stem-cell-procedure/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/4-year-knee-stem-cell-procedure-update-amazing-patients/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/knee-nerve-pain/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/stem-cell-cartilage-regeneration/

  2. Elexis Rice

    What is PRP good for them.. I have left hip issues. I notice you do PRP in your clinics?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Elexis,
      We use both PRP and Stem Cells. The important part is to use the right treatment for the right situation. PRP is like an espresso shot for the stem cells present in the joint- so for less severe conditions. Stem Cells are needed when there aren’t enough stem cells in a joint, so more severe conditions. Please see: https://regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/what-is-prp/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/let-us-know-think-new-regenexx-difference-video/

  3. Julia Pazzi Clements

    What about the technology that Michael N Brown MD, DC uses? He claims to have stem cells form patients blood.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Julia,

      Their website states that the source of stem cells they use is the patient’s bone marrow. Importantly, here’s what to look for when considering stem cell therapy: https://regenexx.com/blog/orthopedic-stem-cell-treatment/

  4. Allison Suddard

    Having referred well over 100 people to your clinic over the years for your regenerative medicine treatments, I want to make sure I’m using the right verbiage for PRP. Until now, I’ve said they are not stem cells per se, but do have regenerative properties. How should I describe PRP to someone?
    Thanks!
    Allison S

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Allison,

      Thanks as always for helping so many people get the treatment they need! PRP is valuable for it’s growth factors and other things important to the healing process. The easiest way to explain PRP is that it’s like espresso shots for the stem cells already present in the joint. Just like if you were to serve espresso shots to workmen on a job, it would wake them up, and they would work harder and faster. Here’s much more information about how it all works: https://regenexx.com/prp-platelet-rich-plasma/ Stem cells are used in more severe issues, when there are not enough stem cells present: https://regenexx.com/our-approach/ One of the very important treatment decisions is using the right procedure, for the right issue.

      1. Sally

        So how is it determined whether or not a joint has sufficient stem cells and therefore only PRP is necessary?

        1. Regenexx Team Post author

          Sally,
          In general, the more severe the issue, the greater the need for stem cells. For Regenexx patients, that decision is an important part of the Candidacy process, as the correct treatment for the issue is key. Our research, the patient’s medical history, history of the issue, MRI, the world’s largest registry of orthopedic patient’s treated with stem cells, and ultimately the exam all factor in. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/knee-arthritis-stem-cell-research/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/amniotic-stem-cell-scams/

  5. Kay

    I have bad shoulder…injured 2010…small tear in rotocuff it healed. …2013 arm pulled backwards & up hurt since then…Dr here says replacement. I don’t believe him & want it to heal with stem cells. I have a lot of pain. Can you help me?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Kay,
      Likely, but we’d need to take a look. Shoulder replacement is the least successful of all joint replacements, and joint replacements should always be the last resort. Please see: https://regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/shoulder-surgery-alternative/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/6-year-knee-stem-cell-update/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/how-to-avoid-surgery-for-rotator-cuff/ If you’d like to see if you’d be a Candidate, please submit the candidate form.

  6. Barbara H Phelan

    I have osteoarthritis in both thumbs and have been told I’m a good candidate for prolotherapy. Are your doctors trained in all the injection procedures from prolotherapy to stem cells in your Colorado location? I’ve also read a little about the Hackett-Hemwall prolotherapy. Is this the methodology that is used? Thanks

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Barbara,
      Yes, we do prolotherapy, platelet procedures and and we invented orthopedic stem cell injections. Importantly, the complex issues of thumb arthritis would be unlikely to respond to prolotherapy alone. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/thumb-arthritis-relief/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/treating-hand-arthritis-trigger-finger-prp/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/texting-thumb-treatments/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/regenexx-invent-orthopedic-stem-cell-injections/ If you’d like to see if you’d be a Candidate, please submit the Candidate form.

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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