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What is Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy?

Adipose-derived stem cell therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that utilizes the body’s natural healing mechanism to treat various conditions.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the unique ability to differentiate into certain types of tissues and self-renew. Stem cells can be of two types – embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any cell of the body and adult stem cells, which have the ability to differentiate into specific types of cells. The field of orthopedics utilizes adult stem cells found in bone marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells for treatment of many musculoskeletal diseases that have limited therapeutic options.

Adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) are adult stem cells (mesenchymal stem cells) with multipotential differentiation and self-renewal property. They are most commonly isolated from adipose (fat) tissues located in the abdomen using procedures such as liposuction or direct excision technique. ADSCs have the ability to turn into cells that form the musculoskeletal system such as tendons, ligaments, and articular cartilage.

The stem cells extracted from your own body are concentrated to multiply and differentiate into the injured tissue. Your orthopedist then injects the concentrated adipose-derived stem cells into the affected area to promote the healing ability of injured and degenerated bone, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Benefits of Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy

The benefits of adipose-derived stem cell therapy over other surgical options include:

  • Promotes natural healing of the damaged tissues
  • Effective alternative therapy to surgery
  • No immune rejection as the stem cells are taken from your own body
  • Treats severe injuries and degeneration that cannot be repaired, such as degenerative disc disease
  • Is not associated with the potential risks and complications associated with surgery

Indications for Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy

Adipose-derived stem cell therapy can be used to treat various degenerative conditions of the shoulders, knees, hips, and spine. They can also be employed in the treatment of various soft tissues, such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons as well as bone-related injuries. Some of the conditions that ADSCs are indicated for include:

  • Fractures
  • Non-union of bone fractures
  • Joint arthritis
  • Osteonecrosis (death of bone tissue)
  • Degenerative vertebral disks

Preparation for Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy

Preoperative preparation for ADSC therapy may involve the following steps:

  • A thorough examination is performed by your doctor to check for any medical issues that need to be addressed prior to the procedure.
  • You will be asked if you have allergies to medications, anesthesia, or latex.
  • You should inform your doctor of any medications, vitamins, or supplements that you are taking.
  • It is important that you stop taking any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at least two weeks before your procedure.
  • Preparing for a stem cell procedure is relatively easy and your doctor will give you specific instructions depending on your condition.
  • A written consent will be obtained from you after the procedure has been explained in detail.

Procedure for Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy

The procedure begins with your doctor extracting adipose-derived stem cells from your own body. The stem cells are usually aspirated from your stomach region through a procedure called liposuction. Your doctor will first clean and numb your stomach area, and a small incision is made. A needle is introduced through the incision into the fatty area of the stomach. Fat tissues are then aspirated using a special syringe and the sample obtained is sent to the laboratory. In the laboratory, the aspirate is spun in a machine for 10 to 15 minutes and a concentrated adipose-derived stem cell sample is separated.

Your doctor then cleans and numbs your affected area to be treated and then, under the guidance of special x-rays, injects the adipose-derived stem cells into the diseased region. The whole procedure usually takes less than one hour and you may return home on the same day of the procedure.

Post-Operative Care and Recovery

In general, postoperative care and recovery after adipose-derived stem cell therapy will involve the following:

  • You will be transferred to the recovery area where your nurse will closely observe you for any allergic/anesthetic reactions and monitor your vital signs as you recover.
  • You will most likely be able to return to work the next day following your procedure.
  • You will need to take it easy and avoid any load-bearing activities for at least two weeks following your procedure.
  • You will need to refrain from taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for a while as this can affect the healing process of your body.
  • You may notice pain, swelling, and discomfort near the surgery site. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications are provided as needed.
  • You should keep the surgical site clean and dry. Instructions on surgical site care and bathing will be provided.
  • Periodic follow-up appointments will be scheduled to monitor your progress.

Risks and Complications

Adipose-derived stem cell therapy is generally considered a safe procedure with minimal complications, however, as with any medical procedure, complications can occur.

Some risk factors related to adipose-derived stem cell therapy include infection as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that can cause disease may be introduced during the preparation process.

The procedure to either remove or inject the cells also has the risk of introducing an infection to the damaged tissue into which they are injected. Rarely, an immune reaction may occur from injected stem cells.