(07/08/13) - Stem cells may spare some arthritis sufferers from surgery - or at
least buy them time. Hip, shoulder and knee replacements are quickly on the
rise, thanks to arthritis, so this breakthrough is coming at the perfect time.
Former state representative John Lunsford gave speeches, shook hands, and pounded the pavement for 11 years in Georgia. It all took a toll on his body.
"I was taking about 16 ibuprofen a day and sometimes I'd take two naproxen in the morning and two at night," Lunsford says.
He was suffering from osteoarthritis. Doctors told John his only solution was surgery. "The first one told me I would need a total hip replacement. So, I went to get a second opinion, and he told me I needed a total hip replacement."
But then he found the next evolution in regenerative medicine - using stem cells to target inflammatory and pain pathways.
"They change the pain pathway so it's no longer as painful. They change the inflammatory pathways in that you don't have as much inflammation being produced and in turn not as much pain," says Emory's Dr. R. Amadeus Mason.
Mason and his team take the stem cells from a patients' own bone marrow, process them, and inject them back into the patients joint, causing the pain to go away, "we have also seen regeneration of cartilage."
Patients are able to walk or drive immediately after the procedure and should experience significant overall improvement within six weeks.
Lunsford says, "The implant was a little intense for a few seconds, uh, nothing you couldn't deal with. A whole lot less than a root canal."
Out of 50 patients, only one needed surgery. Stem cell injections are being used mainly in the larger joints-knees, hips, and shoulders.
But because this treatment is so new, doctors don't know how long it will last. After three-to-four years, patients will need to have another injection, or the replacement surgery, and because of that, most health insurance plans will not cover it.
ABC12 Main Station