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

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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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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20 thoughts on “Do Stem Cell Clinics Have the Experience They’re Touting?

  1. Denis

    Thanks for the warning and tips, Dr. Centeno. I believe you have blogged about this previously, but what are the best ways that a layman can perform due diligence on possible stem cell providers? Anything in addition to: 1) checking for publications in the PubMed NLM site 2) checking the Open Payments CMS site for any financial relationships that may signify a possible conflict of interest 3) verifying licenses and looking for any complaints in state government websites 4) Google & Google Scholar search and checking the Wayback Machine 5) interviewing the physician about how and what they do and how many times they have done it (e.g., do they use a bedside centrifuge machine or more) 6) personal referrals and checking references (if privacy permits). I’m not an expert by any means, but from what I can objectively tell, Regenexx seems to be the most open and credible stem cell provider around.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Denis,
      All great due diligence! In addition, where the doctor was trained to do stem cell and regenerative medicine is crucial, as that’s where things fall apart. The current trend is to “add” stem cells as an additional service offered based on inadequate training like the 4AM fellowships and many others. Regenerative Interventional Orthopedics is a field all unto itself. We have devoted 11 years to it exclusively and it continues to evolve as we delve deeper and deeper. We’re currently working on a knee environment study which will allow us to further customize treatment. Stem cell source is very important, using appropriate guidance, technique, and what their protocol is comprised of.

  2. M. Michlmayr

    Interesting article! It is true that several orthopedic groups are starting to offer this service as well.
    You have opened quite a number of Regenexx clinics across the country, and unfortunately, most of the doctors doing the procedures do not have much experience either.
    What is a patient to do?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      M Michlmayr,

      The issue is many of the Orthopedic groups offering stem cells have not been adequately trained in this field. It is a specialty all of it’s own. The Regenexx Doctors have gone through an incredibly rigorous selection process, and have received the most intensive training available today in the field of Regenerative Interventional Orthopedics, go through additional training yearly, and need to master each technique to be certified to perform it…as compared to the popular A4M “Fellowships”. As a patient, it’s important to do your research. Use the phone. Call and ask where the doctor you are considering received their stem cell or regenerative training. Ask what type of stem cells they use. Ask how they are administered. Ask what kind of guidance they use. Ask how their PRP is made, etc…and make the choice that works for you. http://www.regenexx.com/blog/does-your-stem-cell-doctor-know-what-hes-doing/ http://www.regenexx.com/stem-cell-fellowship-training/ http://www.regenexx.com/stem-cell-training/

  3. Jennifer

    Regenexx stem cells into my discs have changed my life. I have my life back. Thank you so much

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Jennifer,
      Wonderful to hear! That’s why we do what we do, so nice to get updates!

  4. Dan Dubrava

    Thank you for your very interesting comments. Are you familiar with Blue Tail Medical in Columbia, MO? I was referred to them by one of their patients, but do not know anything about them. I was referred to Regenexx Denver by one of your patients. I have a complex tear in my meniscus and intend to get two opinions; from Regenexx and Blue Tail. Any comments? Many Thanks!

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Dan,
      Yes, we are. Blue Tail in Columbia, MO is a respectable group and does good work. We differ in our level of experience, our techniques and our procedures. http://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/knee-surgery-alternative/ http://www.regenexx.com/meniscus-tears/ Complex meniscus tears are things we treat regularly: https://regenexx.com/blog/can-you-treat-a-meniscus-tear-without-surgery/ If you would like to speak to one of our physicians about your particular with your latest MRI, please fill out the Candidate Form on either of the first two links. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  5. Jane

    I am about to cancel a TKR to be examined for stem cell replacement after I get a MRI done & send it to you.. I want to fly to Colorado, however Ocala is closer to me. How does someone compare or become confident in the Regenexx family of doctors themselves?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Jane,
      We are incredibly selective, and all of the Regenexx Doctors have been extensively trained, and get retrained yearly. http://www.regenexx.com/blog/our-network-providers-are-highly-trained/ Dr. Leiber in Ocala is great! http://newregenortho.com/ He treated the patients in our two latest patient testimonial videos, which are both on their website. Colorado is where Regenexx headquarters is at the Centeno Schultz Clinic. It’s the home of the Regenexx Research Lab, where the physician training and the Regenexx Interventional Orthopedics Fellowship takes place…but the very same procedures are performed. It really is just personal preference.

  6. Pat

    When is Blue Cross Blue Shield going to recognize the benefits/cost savings of stem cell injections?
    How are they working with collagen scaffolding in meniscal replace,emts?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Pat,
      One would almost need to assume that they cover it BECAUSE it involves surgery. After all, they covered the surgeries which removed the pieces of meniscus in the first place!

  7. Lena Filchock

    I have been reading about the stem cell therapies foe osteoarthritis I the knees.I have been reading about it for my husband who has a very bad knee and is a candidate for replacement,he had heart surgery for an aoritic valve replacement,he also has unresolved atrial fibrillation and is on coumiden daily,I feel knee surgery could cause some complications and want him to avoid it.We have an appointment at the Regenerex Stem Cell Clinic in Pittsburg Pa. I would like your feedback on that clinics reputation and success rate.You can send an email with your response and if better alternative to surgery.Thanking you I am Lena Filchock

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Lena,
      Sent email.

  8. Diane Putman

    I have a torn rotator cuff, and I really am interested in finding out about who would be the best doctor to talk to me about stem cell procedures. I live in Phoenix Arizona, although I can Los Angeles California, which is my original home. It would be helpful to know the best doctors in both areas.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Diane,
      We have a Regenexx Provider in Phoenix, and 4 in the Los Angeles area. Here is the link: http://www.regenexx.com/find-a-physician/ . All are very qualified. Dr. Blecher in Los Angeles was the doctor who worked on Lloyd Eisner’s rotator cuff, the Olympian who was featured on the latest Regenexx spot on “The Doctors” TV show. Lloyd’s tear was much more serious than the average as most don’t require bracing. http://www.blechermd.com/prp-regenerative-medicine-los-angeles.html. To the right of the Clinic’s name are the areas of the body that clinic treats.

  9. Sonnia Gallo

    I know you have providers in various locations closer to my home than CO. My concern is getting a doctor that has performed many procedures and has a great deal of experience. I don’t want to be ‘one of their first’ patients. I am in Las Vegas, NV and was planning to go to the CO location because I want to be treated by Dr. Centeno. However, if I knew that I would get the same result going to a location closer, then I would probably do that. My issues are one hip and one knee. Any recommendations for a doctor in California with lots of experience? Also, is the cost the same across all locations? I find that California tends to have higher costs. Thanks.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Sonnia,

      I understand your concern. To hopefully help ease your mind, the purpose of the Regenexx Network is to provide the same procedures at the same quality in locations around the country. All the Regenexx Providers were elite physicians on their own, and have gone through the incredibly rigorous Regenexx selection process, received the most intensive training available today in the field of Regenerative Interventional Orthopedics, go through additional training yearly, and need to master each technique in order to be certified to perform it. While Dr. Centeno, and his partner Dr. Schultz, have more experience than anyone else, Dr. Centeno has turned that experience into a training program like no other available. You are more than welcome to come to beautiful Colorado to be treated at the Centeno Schultz Clinic by Dr. Centeno. However we have Regenexx Providers at 5 locations in California, all of whom would be great choices for your hip and knee treatments. The costs appear to be about the same. If you would like more information about the different locations you can find them here: http://www.regenexx.com/find-a-physician/ and if you would like to speak to someone, please call 888 525 3005 and ask to speak to Che DeMarco.

  10. Elizabeth Boylen

    Iam so interested in this, I need two knee replacements and have been in pain along time. I won’t do the surgery because I’ll be laid up for weeks. What are the results of this procedure for knees? I had gel injections done didn’t help at all. Thanks Elizabeth.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Elizabeth,
      Knees are the joints that we treat the most of, and we have had very good results: http://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/knee-surgery-alternative/. Gel injections are meant as temporary help as they are a lubricant, but they have no regenerative potential. The fact that they didn’t help you is indicative of the need for treatment that can actually help repair the damage..

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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