Do Stem Cell Clinics Have the Experience They’re Touting?

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stem cell experience

Many people have done it…buffing up a resume to make their accomplishments look a little better. This past few months, I’ve seen a few clinics buff up their resume on their stem cell experience. At first I just ignored it as noise, but it’s become pretty prevalent, so I thought I would do what I love to do, some research on who did what, and when.

Our History Using Stem Cells

First, some true pioneers who have my absolute respect. Japanese surgeon Wakatani began placing cultured bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells into knees in 1988! Philippe Hernigou began using same day, bone marrow stem cell procedures to treat bone disorders like osteonecrosis in the 90s.

When we began using stem cell procedures for low backs, knees, hips, and shoulders back in 2005, there was no one else in the U.S. doing this type of work. 2016 marked our 11th year as the most experienced orthopedic stem cell provider in the United States. So it came as a pretty big surprise to hear some other clinics claiming to have been using stem cells as long as we have.

The Research Methodology…

I thought about using medical journal publications to confirm the date a provider began using stem cells, but most of the clinics out there making these claims don’t publish research. So I found an easier way to do it. Turns out, the Internet has an archive site.

I searched the archive for the provider’s website and then marched back in time until the date “stem cells” appeared as a therapy. Since I know when each of these clinics started, this turned out for most to be a surprisingly accurate method.

So Who Started What, When?

Many of the these clinics make no specific claims as to how much experience they have, so I researched the ones that do the most orthopedic work with stem cells. The clinics are arranged by the dates they first appear on the Internet:

History of Orthopedic Stem Cell Therapy Providers

We first began IRB approved research into same day and then cultured mesenchmal stem cells in 2005. Two years later, after we had convinced ourselves that the technology was working, we put up our first Internet site (hence the 2007 date above).

Joe Purita came to visit us in 2008 to see what we were up to and to learn as he knew nothing about stem cells and by 2009 he had begun to perform same-day bone marrow based treatments. Next, Dr. Wei in Maryland began to offer same day bone marrow procedures. Dave Karli in Vail, Colorado, visited us in 2009 and we co-managed a few stem cell patients and by approx. 2010 he was performing bone marrow stem cell cases on his own. Cell Surgical Network then came on the scene in 2011, after being founded by two plastic surgeons using fat stem cells. Dr. Magaziner began offering similar treatments about that same time. Dr. Pettine to the North of us was a later entry, offering spine injections with stem cells isolated through a bedside machine. Steve Sampson who already had extensive experience with platelet rich plasma, began using same day bone marrow procedures about 2012. Ken Mautner at Emory came on about that time, or slightly later, even though he didn’t get a website up until 2015. Dr. Pettine began to treat more than spines only a few years back (approximately 2013), but got a new website up this past year. Finally, Kristen Comella had been a lab manager for Bioheart and had been teaching how to process fat stem cells for years, but the company only last year announced its own clinics.

So how bad can this buffing up the stem cell resume get? As I was getting ready to publish this post this press release came across my desk, “World-Renowned Stem Cell Researcher and Board-Certified Surgeon, Dr. Brian Mehling, Set to Attend The 46th Annual World Economic Forum in Davos”. Wow, that sounds impressive! I had never heard of this doctor, so the great equalizer is always the US National Library of Medicine. After a quick search under his name and “stem cells”, I found this doctor was listed on a single Chinese research publication as the 7th author (they are listed in order of importance) that reported the results of treating 20 patients with spinal cord injury with stems cells. Given that normally a “world renowned researcher” would be expected to have tens of publications to 100+, you can see what we’re dealing with here in the stem cell wild west.

The upshot? It’s good to get a record of how much experience everyone has so that patients can make informed choices. While a little creative resume buffing may seem okay on the surface, inventing many years of experience in stem cells or declaring yourself an expert or “world renowned” when there little evidence to back that up is a little shaky. So do your homework!

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