The Secrets of Stem Cell
Our quality of life is directly linked to our health. Physical injuries like a bad knee or hip can get in the way of the life we want to live. From grandparents playing with their grandchildren to athletes mastering their craft, anyone who experiences problems in their spine or knee knows how restricting these injuries can be. As debilitating as these injuries are, there are a range of reasons why someone would not want to address them. Sometimes age is a factor, with older individuals not wanting to go through an enduring knee replacement surgery. Instead, they are left living in pain. Younger patients often don’t have the liberty with their schedule for the long recovery time. Joint replacement surgeries can be cumbersome and physically taxing, with months of physical training often required to recover. Cortisone shots have become common, but this is a steroid treatment and only a temporary anti-inflammatory. Not to mention that this anti-metabolite is known to be bad for cartilage. With the advances in science and technology over the years, there has to be a better way and this hope guided one doctor in the area on a search for a better treatment.
The concerns surrounding joint replacement treatments and surgeries led Dr. Richard Scheinberg of Scheinberg Orthopedic Group, a Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon who has been a Montecito resident and practicing in the area since 1981, to explore less invasive options for his patients. While some new materials and techniques have been introduced, Dr. Scheinberg mentions that the knee and other joint replacement surgeries have generally remained unchanged over the past fifty years. While searching for alternative procedures, he came across one known as bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC). In this procedure, the patient’s own adult stem cells are removed, concentrated, and then reintroduced into the body. Under the right conditions, adult stem cells are able to turn themselves into other kinds of cells, helping regenerate the tissue found in those areas.
Although being used worldwide, the BMAC technique remains relatively unknown among patients. Dr. Scheinberg still does about a dozen surgeries a week, but is currently the only one offering BMAC treatments along the Central Coast. Over the past ten or so years, he has used it to address osteoarthritis in areas like the knee, shoulder, hip, spine, foot, and ankle. The procedure has also been used to treat tears and injuries in these areas, and is even incorporated as a supplementary treatment to arthroscopic surgery, which has become a common practice in top sports medicine clinics. Dr. Scheinberg notes that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding stem cells with companies seeking to profit off of the hype, producing questionable treatments that do not use live stem cells. BMAC is currently the only FDA-approved use of adult stem cells and because it uses the patient’s own live stem cells, there is almost no risk of rejection by the body, which can happen when using foreign stem cells.
This procedure was pioneered by French surgeon Dr. Philippe Hernigou around 30 years ago and it has since been adopted by doctors around the world and become a standard treatment for athletes in top sports clinics. Dr. Hernigou recently released a long-term follow-up research of around 10,000 patients who received BMAC treatments for arthritic knees. The study found that 87 percent of them had good to excellent reduction of pain while regaining notable function, allowing them to avoid knee replacement surgery altogether. Even knee and other joint replacement surgeries themselves are not 100 percent successful and have other associated risks from the heavy anesthesia, invasive surgery, and long physical recovery. Over the past 10 years that Dr. Scheinberg has been performing this procedure, he has seen similar results in his own practice with 85-90 percent of his patients who have received BMAC treatments. Noting that for most of them, this is a one-time procedure, and all of them have yet to be unhappy with the results.
This less invasive technique allows Dr. Scheinberg to perform the procedure directly in his main Chapala Street office, or one of his other three offices, in an in-house state of the art operating room assisted by several RNs. The patient is put under with a mild anesthesia with Dr. Scheinberg noting that the needle prick from the IV is the only real discomfort that the patient will feel during the process. Once the patient is under, he can use a special tool that allows him to reach the soft tissue in the iliac crest of the pelvic bone, one of the richest sources of mesenchymal stem cells found in the body. About 60 ccs of bone marrow is removed and then run through a centrifuge which separates the healing stem cells and concentrated platelets from the plasma and blood cells. After being concentrated to about 6 ccs, the stem cells are injected into the knee, shoulder, or other affected area where they begin to differentiate and rebuild the surrounding bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat cells. The entire process takes about an hour and the patient is able to walk out of the office that same day, compared to the several days in a hospital and the months of physical training and recovery that normally is needed for a knee replacement surgery.
The one caveat is that since the procedure is not widely practiced, insurance companies do not cover its expense. One of these treatments by Dr. Scheinberg will typically run around five thousand dollars, but he notes that this is almost at cost for him, with the same procedure going for four times that amount in Beverly Hills and other areas. While BMAC is not as big of a moneymaker as surgery is for him, and he admits that he could have retired years ago, after seeing the impressive results that BMAC has had on his patients, Dr. Scheinberg remains dedicated to helping his patients recover from these debilitating injuries with this treatment. From his experience, BMAC offers a simpler, less invasive procedure that gives each patient the possibility to live their best life.
Find more information about BMAC treatments and Dr. Scheinberg’s orthopedic group at www.rdscheinberg.com; the office can also be contacted at (805) 682-1394.