One of the most astounding things I've seen stem cells do is completely heal ACL tears that should have needed surgery.
The ACL is a major stabilizer of the knee. When it's torn, it's not supposed to heal, so surgery is often used to replace the torn ligament. However, that procedure has issues. First, the graft goes in at a steeper angle than the original ACL, causing more compression of the cartilage. Many young adults who get the surgery end up with arthritis by age 30. In addition, the position sense and strength of the knee is often never the same.
The best possible solution for a torn ACL would be to heal the ligament in place with stem cells. But is this science fiction or can it really be done? Let's look at the case below.
Eddy is a middle-aged, athletic attorney who first injured his knee in March of last year while playing basketball. He went through two months of physical therapy, but then he reinjured the knee in May. An MRI showed a complete ACL tear that would normally require surgery.
In late summer, he decided to avoid surgery and get a precise injection of his own stem cells into the tear with Dr. Schulz's Regenexx-SD procedure. Ninety days later, he has nearly totally eliminated the pain at the back of his knee. Before the procedure, he started limping after walking three blocks. Now he has no limitations.
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The reduction of pain and improvement in function were great to see, but perhaps the most interesting thing was the change in his MRI report:
Before: ". . . tear in the anterior cruciate ligament near its origin."
After: "No tears identified."
The MRI image above left shows a tear in the ACL (white vertical line through the light grey tissue in the white dashed circle). The image on the right from three months after the stem cell procedure shows no tear in the same place.
The images below are a bit harder to look at, since they're from a specialized ACL sequence that tries to catch the ligament lengthwise. However, you can still see the tear (now a horizontal white line through the darker appearing ligament in the white dashed circle). Again, on the right, the tear can't be seen.
The upshot? We were convinced. The techniques we pioneered with stem cells and ACL tears never cease to amaze me. In addition, we're now on our third advancement in how the procedure is performed, allowing us to deliver more cells to the areas that need them the most. As a result, we're seeing better outcomes than ever before.
Will we need ACL surgery 10-15 years from now? While I think some severe tears may still require surgery, most of what now needs surgery will likely be relegated to the dustbin of medical history!
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock