The human body has an amazing ability to heal itself. “You break your arm, and we don’t do anything other than put it in a cast,” said Duke sports medicine specialist Blake Boggess, DO. “You get a cut, and most of the time you don’t have to go to the doctor; your body repairs and regenerates.” Today, Dr. Boggess and his colleagues are working to apply the body’s own healing abilities to injuries such as ligament and cartilage tears, and conditions like osteoarthritis and plantar fasciitis.
One of the methods they’re studying involves removing a small amount of abdominal fat through liposuction, extracting stem cells from the fat, and injecting them directly where the healing is needed. “Stem cells are cells that can transform into different tissue categories,” said Duke sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon Claude T. Moorman III, MD. “The theory is that you can inject them into the muscle and expect them to turn into muscle cells. Or you might inject them into a joint and expect them to turn into cartilage.”
This type of stem cell therapy has been available in Europe for several years, and star athletes and celebrities have been known to travel there to get it. More recently, for-profit clinics across the U.S. have begun offering stem cell treatment for a variety of conditions. The FDA currently doesn’t regulate the treatment, because the cells come from the patient’s own body and are minimally processed, so there’s little risk of rejection.