Osteoporosis Stem Cell Treatment: Scam Alert

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I was just pinged this week by a woman who asked me how long it would take for an IV stem cell treatment to reverse osteoporosis. I was a bit puzzled, as the fat stem cell treatment she was asking about doesn’t even have an animal model showing that it may work. How did we get to this sorry state of affairs where a woman e-mails me out of the blue about an osteoporosis stem cell treatment which is obviously a scam?

Most patients don’t realize that stem cells from different tissues have different properties and that different injection routes will do very different things. For example, for bone rebuilding, stem cells isolated from fat are at a distinct disadvantage than those from bone marrow. In fact, to get them to form bone, a huge chemical stimulus needs to be applied in culture at a very specific time and at a hyper-specific dose. In addition, many also don’t realize that how stem cells are injected is also very critical to how they perform. For example, if we were trying to build bone, they would need to be injected into the bone marrow. Injecting stem cells IV just ensures that almost all of the cells will get trapped in the lungs and very few will ever make it out of the lungs and into the bone.

So do we have any research data that shows that the type of stem cell treatment that this woman had will make her weak bones stronger? First, a patient with osteoporosis has bones that have been weakened by years of hormonal imbalance, age, and inactivity. The idea behind this kind of treatment is that since mesenchymal stem cells can become bone and since there is need for new and stronger bone, that adding stem cells will strengthen her weakened bone. However, when one examines the IV fat stem cell treatment she wants to try, the possibility of this treatment helping her is highly unlikely. First, fat stem cells just don’t naturally create new bone. Second, the cells were injected IV, where they will get trapped in the lungs and very few would ever reach the bones. Finally, if we search for even an animal experiment that shows that this type of stem cell will help build new bone in osteoporosis, none exists.

So how did this poor woman get scammed into thinking that this stem cell treatment would help build new bone? Regrettably, we’re in the stem cell wild west right now where most of the doctors who are performing these treatments have just taken a weekend course. Many of them don’t know even the simple facts I’ve outlined above. In addition, there seems to be no shortage of doctors who are willing to feed the hype to patients who have come to believe that stem cells are magic and can do anything.

The upshot? Don’t get scammed into thinking that an IV stem cell treatment will build new bone in a patient with osteoporosis. Do some homework and maybe do what this woman did – reach out to an expert to make sure that what is being proposed sounds credible!

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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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