Regenerative Medicine Heals Without Extensive Surgery
Modern medicine has made some amazing strides over the past few decades. But perhaps one of the most incredible breakthroughs is in the form of regenerative medicine.
“When we talk about regenerative medicine, the big buzz word people think about are stem cells,” says Dr. Mark McFarland at Orthopaedic & Spine Center in Newport News. “Stem cells have been around for a long time in medicine. We know what they are, but until recently, we really didn’t know how to utilize them to help patients improve. Really, if you look across every aspect of medicine now, whether it’s orthopedics, plastic surgery or internal medicine, they’re studying stem cells to try to find ways to cure the problems that we face. In orthopedics, it’s the same thing. We have degenerative conditions where the cartilage is wearing out in the joints or the discs are wearing out in the spine, or your tendons or ligaments are partially torn or degenerating, and we really don’t have the capacity on our own to regenerate our tissue. Once the degeneration starts, it just continues to happen, and it slowly gets worse over time. The whole idea behind regenerative medicine is to try to reverse that process. It’s kind of like a lizard re-growing its tail, so to speak. And we’re now able to create new tissue in the knees or the hips or the spine, so the patients feel good again.”
According to Dr. McFarland, the beauty of stem cells is that they can “learn” from whatever area of the body they are placed, to become muscle, ligament, tendon, cartilage, skin or even bone. “Stem cells are like kids when they go off to college,” he says. “They don’t really know what that want to be, so they need something to push them to be what they want to be. The DNA in the environment in which the stem cells are placed instructs those cells to become like the surrounding tissue. So, if you have a muscle injury and inject stem cells into the muscle, they will become muscle. If you inject them into a tendon, they will regenerate and become that tissue.”
The Orthopaedic & Spine Center has been doing regenerative procedures for approximately two years and has had great success with qualified candidates. “We treat a lot of people with arthritic conditions,” says Dr. McFarland. “If you have a patient that is too severely afflicted, a condition we sometime refer to as ‘bone on bone,’ those patients don’t really have the capacity to regenerate cartilage in their joints.” A patient like that would be a better candidate for traditional replacement surgery.
The timeframe for healing using regenerative medicine is about the same as surgery because the stem cells need about six weeks after being injected into a tissue to start converting. However, the process continues for years and patients generally start to get the results they want after three to four months. And in many cases, physical therapy is not necessary.
Unfortunately, insurance does not cover the treatment, but Dr. McFarland and his associates are doing everything to make the procedure affordable to those who want it. “A lot of patients who come to see us think their out-of-pocket expenses are going to be $20,000 to $50,000, but most of the injections we give are just a few thousand dollars,” says Dr. McFarland. “We don’t want this to be something where people think they can only do it if they have a lot of money. We want it to be where anyone who has a problem can come in and get treated.”