Stem Cell Therapy: Biology vs. Carpentry

Completing a stem cell training course is just the first step in offering regenerative medicine therapies to patients. Doctors also have to learn how to market their new services and, more importantly, explain to patients the benefits of PRP and stem cell therapies as compared to surgery and pain medication use. It is the abstractness of such explanations that sometimes challenge doctors.

Doctors are very good at understanding regenerative medicine from a biological and physiological standpoint. They understand the vocabulary, the implications of clinical research, and how outcomes are defined. None of that means a whole lot to patients unless it is put into language they understand.

In facing this ‘translation’ challenge, doctors are always looking for easy-to-understand ways to explain stem cell therapy. Here is a suggestion: biology versus carpentry. Keep reading for a detailed explanation.

Sports Medicine Research

Andrews Institute orthopedic surgeon Dr. Adam Anz is currently leading a phase II clinical trial looking at stem cell therapy for the regeneration of cartilage. The study is a U.S.-based continuation of a study that originally began in Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Sports Medicine Center. It is a three-year study that started in May 2017.

Dr. Anz is rather optimistic about the use of hematopoietic stem cells to stimulate tissue regeneration in people suffering from osteoarthritis and certain kinds of sports injuries. He refers to regenerative medicine as medicine that focuses on biology, in contrast to standard treatments that focus more on ‘carpentry’.

By carpentry, Dr. Anz means reconstructive surgery. Sports medicine has become very adept at repairing damaged tissue through artificial means. In the same way a carpenter might cut a damaged beam out of a wall and replace it with a new beam, an orthopedic surgeon may perform a similar repair on a damaged tendon or degenerating cartilage.

Regenerative medicine does not attempt to repair through artificial means. Rather, the goal is to use natural means to stimulate the body to repair itself. It would be akin to a carpenter treating a broken timber in such a way as to stimulate the timber to heal itself, if that were possible.

Give the Body a Chance

The biology versus carpentry explanation does a very good job of encapsulating what stem cell therapy is all about. Proponents of stem cell therapy and other regenerative medicine procedures believe modern medicine should be doing more to give the body a chance to repair itself rather than immediately intervening when something is wrong. This is, in effect, the most profound difference between regenerative medicine and traditional Western medicine.

Long before there were pharmaceutical corporations and surgical procedures to address just about every musculoskeletal issue under the sun, people relied on more natural and holistic ways to deal with chronic pain, injuries, and degenerative illnesses. That’s not to say that all those older treatments always worked, but neither do all our modern treatments.

There is a time and place for invasive surgeries and long-term prescription medications. But there is also a place for allowing the body to try to heal itself first. If stem cell injections can encourage a patient’s body to generate new cartilage in an osteoarthritis situation, wouldn’t that seem to be a more appropriate way to go? Our industry thinks so.

Regenerative medicine is about biology rather than carpentry. If a patient can understand the analogy, the potential benefits of something like stem cell injections become a lot more tangible. The patient will then have a clear understanding of the choices in front of him or her. A more informed decision should be the natural result.