Who Has Published the Most Stem Cell Research in Orthopedics? Where’s the Beef?

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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There are many patients looking for stem cell treatments of their knee, hip, shoulder, ankle, etc… There are now many web-sites who offer to treat these conditions, many claiming to be world renowned experts in the area. Regrettably for most of these companies and clinics, like the old Arby’s commercial, when you ask, “Where’s the beef?” there’s little to none. So who has published the most stem cell research in orthopedics?

First, if you’ve never seen the iconic “Where’s the beef” ads of the 1980s, click on the video above before you read this piece. What’s the “beef” in orthopedic stem cell treatments? It all comes down to how many scientific publications on how many patients each clinic or clinic network has published. Why? This is a vetting of their specific protocols by the scientific peer review process. How different could these treatments be, after all, aren’t they all offering stem cells? They’re all quite different based on the type of cells used, how they’re processed, and how they’re applied.

What I’ve done below is to spend some time this morning digging for the research publications published by the major players in orthopedic stem cells to treat things like knee arthritis, hip arthritis, fractures, shoulder injuries, etc… Almost all of these also claim to have some street cred in this area, but when you dig into their web-sites or at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you feel like the woman in the video looking at the massive bun (i.e. fancy web-site) and the little beef patty (the scanty research) or the old lady shouting, “Where the beef?”

Here’s the list (version 2 after additional searches):

orthopedic stem cell research review 3

What does it show? First, to create this list I visited each provider’s web-site and also searched PubMed. I then looked at the number of unique patients in scientific publications (i.e. I didn’t include patients that obviously had been reported on in earlier publications). I also restricted my list to the use of autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells from bone marrow or fat to treat orthopedic conditions applied through injection (percutaneous) where both pain and/or function or % improvement data plus complications were available. Even though I tried hard to dig, if anyone represented above has been shortchanged some patients, please contact me and I will immediately update the graphic. For example, there are some journals that aren’t listed in PubMed.

Who won this contest? Regenexx has by far the most extensive published patient experience. Next up is Hernigou. His list is a bit tougher to compile, as it appears that many of his papers cite back to a patient population that began in the 1990s, but I did my best. Phillippe Heringou is the father of this whole field in my opinion and a real pioneer. As far as I know he doesn’t operate a stem cell clinic. In addition, if you look at total unique patients published for only complications, Hernigou’s recent cancer paper, while not a comprehensive complications paper, is a big number of patients.

After Regenexx and Hernigou, the list drops off from a huge patient experience, to much smaller numbers. Pak is a physician I highly respect in Korea, because since I first met him at our inaugural ICMS meeting many years ago, he took the message to heart that it was the responsibility of every physician using stem cells to publish. He’s done a great job of putting his money and time where his mouth is-so congrats to Jae!

While Celling talks a big game on research, they’re actually an exponential leap down from Jae. Having said that, I congratulate them on their recent small paper with Pettine. Caring medical has published a little bit. The list then thins out to what I call “The Pretender Club”. Dr. Purita over at Stem MD has made a fuss about Bartolo Colon, but near as I can find, has not taken the time to publish anything in the medical research literature on his specific technique, so we really can’t say what his results are or aren’t. Cell Surgical Network has an ever expanding crew of doctors performing the prohibited fat stem cell technique with digestion and many studies that they claim to be performing now, but I couldn’t find a single paper authored by any of their doctors using their technique in this space. Bioheart produces a kit to process prohibited fat stem cells and educates physicians in how to use their kits, but again I can’t find a single publication in this arena. Docere clinics through Dr. Adelson I think just presented a small case series of % improvement at a conference, but I can find no peer reviewed publications on his technique. The rest is above.

The patient numbers for Regenexx could fluctuate from the lowest number above, to more than 1,300 patients if you include every patient published to 1,700 if you include what we have reported on the web. By this time next year, based on what we have in the publication pipeline on knee ACLs, shoulders, hips, hand/wrist, and ankles we’ll add about another 400-500 patients to the number above in the table. In addition, we’ll likely start pulling together a massive complications only paper on the 600+ patients treated with cultured cells plus the 2,000 or so treated with same day stem cells.

You might be asking yourself an obvious question right now. Don’t each of these web-sites have whole sections that show lots of research? Yes, but almost all of them (except for Pak’s) show research that has nothing to do with the procedure they use. To notice that, you have to have a trained eye. Take a look at this review of a fat stem cell web-site and patient letter claiming loads of research, none of which had anything to do with the procedure being offered.

The upshot? Why hasn’t the competition spent the immense amount of time, effort, and money it takes to publish their techniques in the research literature? In addition, you really can’t be a medical expert in any area until you publish, so how can any of these physicians without publications be experts? If I were a patient looking at where to get an orthopedic stem cell procedure, I’d take notice and like the little old lady above, ask “Where’s the beef?”

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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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