By: Dr. Michael Cantor of Denver Regenerative Medicine
In order to better understand how our cells heal us, I often ask my patients, “What has healed your body up to this point in your life?” Typically this question evokes a smile because of the simplicity it infers regarding what the potential solution for a chronic musculoskeletal problem might be. We all know that inflammation causes pain, and that modern medicine’s best answers to inflammation involves killing it, masking it, and ultimately cutting the inflammation out of our body. But clearly inflammation exists for a reason, which is to heal our injuries. So why then does this process fail, and what can we do about this?
The answer is relatively simple, inflammation is a signal to mobilize and focus our healing response, without inflammation there is no healing possible. Specifically, inflammation is created by our body in order to call in the cells which heal, repair, and regenerate our injuries and degeneration. In the case of our musculoskeletal system, (muscles, bones, joint cartilage, tendons, and ligaments) the two cells we have discovered are most directly responsible for regeneration are our platelets and our adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSC’s). Our platelets function as our ambulance cell, and they do far more for us than clotting our bleeding. Platelets are packaged with an incredible number of healing factors which aid in increasing blood flow and tissue regrowth, all while signaling in our MSC’s to complete the repair.
Our MSC’s primarily live within our bone marrow and fat cells, and can be thought of as our repairman cells. MSC’s are tasked with the responsibility of laying down new muscle, bone, cartilage, tendon, and ligament wherever our inflammation and platelets have identified tissue damage. There is a good analogy that I like to tell my patients to better understand the role of our MSC’s as opposed to the ever-controversial embryonic stem cells many are most familiar with. Embryonic cells existed in all of us until about 28 days in the womb, and these cells had the ability to become anything in our body from an eyelash to an earlobe. If our embryonic cells are thought of as the top of the pyramid of our stem cells, then our adult MSC’s can be thought of as the bottom of the same pyramid. Our MSC’s cannot become anything, rather they are earmarked to only perform certain tasks within our body.
After 20 years of research, we now know that it is our MSC’s that repair and heal our orthopedic tissues, and that those very MSC’s that live in our body all our lives are the cells we are using today to restart and augment genuine healing. Your MSC’s and platelets are the eggs and flowers of orthopedic healing, and inflammation is the oven. But while inflammation can occur anywhere in your body, the platelets and MSC’s that the inflammation is signaling in require an off ramp from your arteries and capillaries for these cells to have any chance to arrive at the injury site to affect repair. This is exactly why chronic injuries and degeneration pile up in our most avascular areas (tendons, ligaments, joint cartilage), while we can readily repair our more vascularized areas (muscle and bone). Our inability to transport our healing cells into these avascular body areas, along with the pain and degeneration that results from this problem, is exactly what orthopedic stem cell therapy seeks to rectify.
By extracting and centrifuge concentrating these cells from our blood (for platelets) and our fat or bone marrow (for MSC’s), we can then utilize precise ultrasound guidance to inject these cells into chronic degenerative problems such as arthritis and tendonitis, in order to promote and create the microscopic cellular level healing that our bodies so desire and require to heal pain. Microscopic healing is the only healing our body ever does, so it’s no wonder that my patients report resolution of their pain as the first subjective change they feel, often after a few days or weeks rather than months. After several months of building new layers of tissue, your cells can fill in gaps inside cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. But most patients report that their pain was their most debilitating symptom, impeding their normal function and disrupting their quality of life.
We are using the very cells your body’s inflammation is attempting to call in, and simply focusing the cells into the inflamed problem area where they could not get to due to the lack of blood supply. This is exactly what your body would do if it could, so we never scratch out heads when our patients see such amazing results. Stem cell therapy allows you to harness the power of your cells, working with your inflammation rather than against it. Stem cell therapy heals pain and degeneration for that very reason, we can finally work within the design of our body’s healing system with our very own microscopic solution to the microscopic problem.