Real vs. Fake Orthopedic Stem Cell Treatment: How to Tell the Difference

There are hundreds of stem cells clinics in the U.S., alone, offering to cure everything from impotence to autism to heart damage suffered after a heart attack. Some particularly bold clinics are even claiming stem cells can grow you a new joint from a severely degenerated one. In fact, when I last reported on the number of stem cell clinics in the U.S., in 2016, there were nearly 600 at that point, today, there are many, many more. Unfortunately, very few of these clinics can back up their stem cell therapies with published study data showing whether their treatment approach works.

As a physician, it can be mind-boggling to see clinics employing nonphysicians (e.g., nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc.) to perform procedures only physicians fully and properly trained in interventional orthopedics should be doing. I can only imagine how harrowing it must be for a patient who’s in pain and just trying to figure out what’s real and what’s make-believe in the world of stem cells. So today, I’m going to reveal a few things you can do to help you tell the difference between real vs fake orthopedic stem cell treatment.

Real vs Fake Orthopedic Stem Cell Treatment

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Study the Website

Fake? The website has minimal treatment details but plenty of plugs to book an appointment or attend their next big stem cell seminar (which are typically just aggressive sales events). The website references research that doesn’t apply specifically (e.g., same stem cell source, processing methods, treatments, etc.) to the treatments they provide. Google the physical address for the clinic shown on the website—there is often also a chiropractic clinic at the same address. Or maybe the website does list a specialist physician as the provider of the “stem cell” treatments, but his or her bio, especially as it relates to orthopedic stem cell education, research, and so on, is lacking, and Google searches aren’t giving you much either…or even worse, raising major red flags.

Real? The website has extensive details, pertinent research and the clinic’s own publications, and hundreds, or even thousands, of pages of content you can utilize to reference any and every question you might have. There is only one clinic at the address, and it’s easy to find the qualifications of the interventional orthopedic physicians involved.

Know the Stem Cell Source

Fake? If the clinic is claiming they use live amniotic or cord blood “stem cells” (something you may hear at some of the aggressive seminars mentioned above), these treatments are fake as these stem cell products are regulated by the FDA to be nonviable (dead) cell products. While we want our source for orthopedic treatments to be bone marrow concentrate which contains stem cells, we don’t want them from a provider who is claiming he or she uses an instrument that draws so many bone marrow stem cells they don’t have to be concentrated before being reinjected, making this a “quickie” orthopedic stem cell treatment.

Real? This physician harvests bone marrow, centrifuges it to isolate and concentrate the stem cells, and then reinjects the bone marrow concentrate which contains stem cells.

Learn About the Facility Setup

Fake? The procedure is performed in a chiropractor’s office. Additionally, the clinic is not set up with equipment for proper injection guidance, standard emergency situations, and cleanliness techniques, such as those listed below.

Real? The procedure is performed in an interventional orthopedic physician’s office, using fluoroscopy (real-time X-ray), ultrasound, precise and advanced guidance techniques. The procedure suite contains standard emergency and sterile equipment: vital signs monitor, a crash cart, automated defibrillator, sealed floors, oxygen, and so on.

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Find Out Who Performs the Procedure

Fake? No orthopedic stem cell procedure should be performed by a chiropractor, acupuncturist, naturopath, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, and so on.

Real? Orthopedic stem cell procedures should be performed only by a specialist physician who has completed extensive training through the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation.

Ask How the Procedure Is Performed

Fake? The procedure is performed blind, meaning without any imaging guidance to assure the injected stem cells are going precisely where they need to go.

Real? The procedure is performed using real-time fluoroscopy and/or ultrasound guidance to ensure that the bone marrow conccentrate which contains stem cells is precisely placed in the correct spot.

Review What Conditions the Clinic Treats

Fake? The clinic seems to have a “stem cell” treatment for every medical problem under the sun (e.g., arthritis, diabetes, ALS, heart failure, etc.) and in every body system (e.g., musculoskeletal, neurologic, cardiac, pulmonary, etc). You can often find this on their website.

Real? The clinic only specializes in and treats orthopedic conditions.

Find Out How the Clinic Doses Your Stem Cells

Fake? The clinic has no idea how many stem cells they are injecting nor does it have a way to customize the dosage to your specific condition. Note that as mentioned earlier, amniotic and cord blood treatments have no living stem cells, so dose in this context is irrelevant.

Real? The clinic determines the cell dose necessary for every bone marrow concentrate which contains stem cell procedure performed for each individual patient and has the technology to customize the dosage. It uses that information to adjust the therapy accordingly.

The upshot? Don’t be afraid to ask the clinic any question you have that will help you tell the difference between real vs fake orthopedic stem cell treatment. Also don’t be afraid to ask them for the research that supports their answers. If they are unwilling to provide it or provide research that has little to do with the procedure you are seeking, find another clinic.

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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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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