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Repairing rotator cuffs with stem cells

Published: Nov. 11, 2020 at 3:18 AM EST
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Stem cells have been around for a while with claims of helping patients to heal better faster. But is it really true? Details on a new study that looks into stem cells and rotator cuff surgery.

David Manion is an active fisherman, golfer, and a sculptor. But three years ago, he was sidelined by pain in his right shoulder.

“Pretty much shut me down. I like to take care of myself and I like to take care of the people around me and I definitely was not able to do that,” recalled Manion.

David knew he would have to get rotator cuff surgery, but there are some risks.

“Even though we repair the tendon, we stitch it back into place, about 20 percent of the time it may not heal,” explained Nikhil Verma, MD, director of sports medicine at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush.

Which means patients can still have some functional issues, pain after surgery, or even require a second surgery. That is why Doctor Verma wants to see if he can harness the body’s own healing power to heal better and faster. In a trial of rotator cuff surgery patients, he collected and injected stem cells into half of the patients during surgery, then looked at MRI scans a year later.

“In the group that got the stem cells, we could see a marked improvement in the appearance of the tendon compared to the group that did not get the stem cells,” elaborated Dr. Verma.

David participated in the trial and was part of the group that got the stem cells. His recovery went so well he decided to do the stem cells again when his left shoulder gave out.

Manion recalled, “It worked out really well for me last time. Can I do it again?”

Three days after surgery, he no longer needed pain meds. And three weeks out he’s eager to pick up where he left off.

“It’s hard to stop me actually. I’m told by my daughter and wife all the time stop picking stuff up,” shared Manion.

Dr. Verma says patients in the study used their own stem cells. He says their own is best, but if they have cancer or if they have a blood disease where they don’t make cells normally, a donor’s stem cells will be considered in the future. The stem cell treatment is still experimental, so insurance does not cover the cost.

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