Swedish is one of several leading health care systems around the country that has started offering treatment options known as “regenerative medicine” for patients suffering from painful conditions that affect their joints, cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
Regenerative medicine uses certain cell therapies, or “orthobiologics,” for treatment. As a result, regenerative medicine has been caught up in current controversies around stem cells, which in some cases has led to misunderstanding and mischaracterizations.
As the Executive Medical Director of Rehabilitation & Performance Medicine at Swedish, I oversee the clinical care and research in our regenerative medicine program. It is important to offer a balanced picture of how this emerging field of medicine can potentially benefit patients with conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendinitis, cartilage defects and degenerative joint disease.
The Food & Drug Administration is appropriately cracking down on unethical stem-cell clinics that promote their therapies as miraculous cure-alls while providing little information to help patients make an informed choice.
But it would be a mistake to assume that all health care providers that offer cell therapies are engaged in wrongdoing. Highly reputable clinicians across the country have found positive results with orthobiologics.
At Swedish, we have recently begun offering these therapies for certain conditions affecting joints, tendons or cartilage where the evidence in support of these treatments is most promising. We offer them through our sports medicine program, where our specialty physicians see thousands of patients every year with painful conditions that impair their quality of life, including arthritis, tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
As an experienced physician, I am proud of the leading-edge research we are conducting at Swedish to advance medical knowledge about these therapies that use a patient’s own cells to help heal certain injuries.
Many of our patients have tried standard treatment options such as physical therapy, oral or topical medication and steroid injections, with little or no success. Some have also tried surgery but have ongoing symptoms, while others are looking for options that could help them avoid or postpone surgery.
At Swedish, we are treading prudently into this evolving field of medicine. We work with all our patients to fully explain the treatment options that are available, including evidence of risks and benefits, and create a care plan that is right for them.
Swedish is also committed to contributing to the body of research that is developing around cell therapies. We are partnering in clinical research and data collection with several other leading academic institutions both locally and nationally. This research collaboration includes maintaining a confidential patient registry for documenting safety and outcomes data.
We are seeing some promising preliminary results. Between 60 and 80 percent of our patients who receive orthobiologic treatments demonstrate measurable improvements in their level of pain, their ability to function and their quality of life. Less than one percent of patients reported complications up to 12 months following the procedure. We are encouraged by these initial results, and more research is needed to measure long-term outcomes and comparative effectiveness.
This is an exciting area of medicine with real potential to help millions of patients enjoy a better quality of life. Let’s keep moving forward, guided by scientific rigor, full transparency and our patients’ best interests. That is our commitment to the patients and communities we serve.
About the AuthorVisit Website More Content by Michele L. Arnold, M.D. FAAPMR