Regenerative medicine is a branch of medical technology that includes platelet rich plasma therapy, stem cell injections, and amniotic membrane therapy. These three therapies are showing great promise in treating a number of different pain conditions.
What is regenerative medicine?
Regenerative medicine is the umbrella term for three specific therapies: platelet rich plasma therapy, stem cell injections, and amniotic membrane therapy. Instead of treating the symptoms of a pain condition, these therapies focus on healing damage in the body.
Platelet rich plasma therapy
Platelet rich plasma therapy use the patient’s own blood. Blood is taken from the patient and then placed in a centrifuge. Platelets are separated from some of the blood and then added to more of the patient’s blood before being injected into the area being treated. Platelets have a protein called growth factor. This growth factor encourages the healing and regrowth of tissue. Platelet rich plasma therapy injections have between five and ten times the amount of platelets normally present in blood.
Using a patient’s own blood eliminates the risk of disease transmission during treatment and is considered a minimally-invasive type of treatment.
Stem cell injections
Stem cell injections have been very controversial in the past but are beginning to gain more acceptance. Stem cells are present in all cells. Their job is to grow and heal whichever living structure they are part of (e.g., skin, tissue, organs, etc.). Injecting stem cells into a damaged area of the body can help to regenerate healthy tissue.
There are three types of stem cells.
- Embryonic: Immature cells from an embryo that is four to five days old. Can be used to regrow any type of cell in the body.
- Adult: Mature stem cells that can only be used for the organ from which they are harvested (i.e., liver stem cells can only be used to heal liver tissue).
- Induced pluripotent: Created in a laboratory. These stem cells can be used in the same manner as embryonic stem cells.
The discovery of pluripotent stem cells has helped to ease the controversy of embryonic stem cells somewhat. Since these stem cells can be used for any tissue in the body, embryonic stem cells have been less necessary for research.
Amniotic membrane therapy
Amniotic membrane therapy uses cells from the amniotic membrane surrounding a baby in utero. There are two types of these cells: stromal and epithelial. As with embryonic stem cells, both types of cells are able to differentiate and become any type of cell needed.
Pain conditions treated by regenerative medicine
Although regenerative medicine is still being researched, here are ten pain conditions that these therapies can treat.
1. Knee pain
Knee pain can be caused by many different factors. Regenerative medicine can help with inflammation while encouraging the body to regrow any damaged soft tissues or tendons.
Inflammation and pain due to arthritis can be treated in the same manner as knee pain. A wear-and-tear condition may be especially responsive to regenerative medicine as it may be able to turn back damage and restore mobility.
Tendinitis occurs when tendons in any part of the body become inflamed and damaged. When this occurs in the Achilles tendon, walking may become nearly impossible. Regenerative medicine has been shown to be effective in repairing the tendon.
4. Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow is a condition of inflammation and pain that occurs when the repetitive motion of tennis wears down the tendons and muscles in this joint. Regenerative medicine addresses this and helps the body heal.
5. Cervical radiculopathy
This condition results in pain due to nerve damage in the cervical spine. Platelet rich plasma therapy or stem cell injections can help repair nerve damage to relieve pain.
6. Compression fracture
There is some evidence that regenerative medicine can help bones to heal faster and stronger, making the prospect of re-fracture in the same bone less likely.
7. Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease occurs over time as discs wear out. When this occurs, they provide less cushion between vertebrae, causing pain and inflammation. With regenerative medicine, discs repair themselves and are able to return to their normal function.
8. Herniated disc
Herniated discs can be a result of injury or disc degeneration. The disc ruptures, allowing the cushioning fluid to seep out. Instead of just removing the ruptured disc material, regenerative medicine allows the disc to repair and potentially restore the disc material.
Sciatic pain is pain that is felt anywhere along the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, running from the lumbar spine underneath the buttocks, along the hip, and down to the feet. Sciatica is the collection of pain symptoms caused by an underlying condition that regenerative medicine can help treat.
Another wear-and-tear condition, the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis can be addressed as the painful area regenerates and returns to normal functioning.
Regenerative medicine may seem like science fiction, but evidence is mounting that it really does work. The University of Alberta Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic found that platelet rich plasma therapy caused positive structural changes in the tissues of study participants with chronically sore shoulders. This means that not only did pain go away, but the shoulders began to heal on the tissue level.
Scientists at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden believe that stem cell injections may be able to help intervertebral discs to regenerate. This hypothesis is supported by their observations of regeneration of disc material in the lab. Regenerating disc material could not only eliminate back pain due to degenerative disc disease, but it could also cure the underlying condition.
Regenerative medicine may be the future of chronic pain treatment. For more on the exciting potential of this therapy, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website on regenerative medicine.