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Innovative stem cell and plasma-rich platelet therapies

Physicians turning to the body’s ability to heal are expanding innovative treatments using stem cells and plasma-rich platelet therapies.

Now doctors also are using stem cells to treat other conditions such as large bone breaks that are not healing fast enough, and they’re turning to plasma-rich platelet treatments to speed healing for tendon, ligament and joint injuries.

The use of stem cells to prevent or treat injuries, diseases or conditions has been used for decades in leukemia and lymphoma treatments through bone marrow transplants. Cancer treatments remain the most commonly known type of stem cell treatment in use today.

For stem cell use, “the real data we have is in bone repair and healing,” said Dr. William G. DeLong, chairman of orthopedic surgery for St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem.

“When bones don’t follow their normal path to healing, such as tibia bones, concentrated stem cells treatment can enhance healing.”

NOT A FIRST CHOICE FOR TREATMENT

While controversy exists around stem cell treatments for a host of human ills from blindness and traumatic brain injury to HIV/AIDS and infertility, protocols for use in healing large bone breaks are backed up by scientific evidence, according to DeLong.

DeLong said patients who receive stem cell treatment for difficult broken bone recoveries would have their cells extracted from the pelvis and injected into the injured bone.

“Most of the cells are made in the pelvis, and we only use stem cells when a bone is not healing,” he said.

That means stem cell therapy is not a first-line treatment. It’s only considered after bone break recovery is tracked for at least three to four months. Then a decision is made to proceed with stem cell treatment or not.

NOT TYPICALLY COVERED BY INSURANCE

According to DeLong, “wild” claims have been made to use stem cells for other types of health conditions and “there is no scientific evidence behind such claims, and such treatments are not covered by insurance and they are not FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approved.”

While often not covered by health insurance, plasma-rich platelet therapies to treat soft tissue and tendon injuries are encouraging – science-backed therapies that are becoming more commonplace and available patient options.

“Clinically, platelet-rich plasma is used more frequently,” said DeLong, who added that St. Luke’s charges about $250 for each plasma-rich platelet treatment.

‘IN A GREAT PLACE NOW’

Beverly O’Lear, 59, of Green Township, Pike County, said a history of tendon pain and arthritis drove her to seek plasma-rich platelet therapy for extreme knee and elbow pain.

“I did not want to go through surgery and rehab, and I wanted something that would be more healthy,” with fewer risks than drugs such as cortisone injections or other interventions, she said.

O’Lear, a motivational speaker and corporate educator, said she is “in a great place now” after plasma-rich platelet therapy at Geisinger Health System in Scranton.

MANY ORTHOPEDIC USES

O’Lear was treated by Dr. Justin Tunis, a Geisinger sports medicine specialist and family practice physician.

“It [plasma-rich platelet] has a wide spectrum of orthopedic uses,” Tunis said.

He said platelet-rich plasma is indicated for those suffering chronic pain in rotator cuff and shoulders, hips and knees, and for the onset of osteoarthritis.

“Platelets have growth factors and proteins which can cause a health environment for healing,” Tunis said. “It stimulates the body’s own ability to heal.”

POTENTIALLY MULTIPLE TREATMENTS

A plasma-rich platelet treatment takes about an hour, Tunis said.

“Then we wait,” he said. “Some doctors recommend two to three procedures, but I prefer to see if it works after the first time. Then we don’t do any more.”

Tunis said while FDA-approved, the procedure costs about $350 and is not covered by most health care insurance.

“If it works well, we can help people avoid surgical procedures,” he said. “We use PRP and get phenomenal outcomes.”

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