How Not to Draw Stem Cells

POSTED ON 1/29/2016 IN Regenerative Medicine Education BY Christopher Centeno

Over the last few years, we've seen an explosion in the number of clinics offering stem cells to treat orthopedic and spine issues. Being the first in the U.S. in this space, it's often a bit painful to watch. However, it's often difficult to help patients and doctors understand that this isn't as easy as it looks, so any idea I get that can quickly get the point across is important. Last week, I saw a YouTube video "course" on how to perform a bone marrow aspiration. When I watched it, I knew that this was a great education tool in what not to do.

What Is a Bone Marrow Aspiration?

A bone marrow aspiration, or BMA, is a procedure where a physician harvests the liquid portion of the bone marrow. A specialized needle is used, and the procedure, if done correctly, is generally pretty comfortable. The doctor obtains what looks like thick blood, but it is actually a mix that contains many different stem cell types and other cells. This aspirate is then processed to concentrate the stem cells before reinjection into the problem area. Given that the success of a stem cell procedure likely depends on the number of stem cells the doctor can harvest, the techniques used must maximize that number. Regrettably, it's very easy for the doctor to cut corners and consequently reduce the number of stem cells obtained. If that happens, it doesn't really matter how good the processing is since the procedure and patient are hamstrung from the outset.

What's Wrong with the Bone Marrow Aspiration Video "Course"?

First, the video I critiqued was found on a website for a distributor of kits and amniotic fluid. The video was listed as a way to improve your practice's income by adding stem cells! So right off the bat, you have to wonder what's going on. The verbiage supporting the video seems to make the point that doctors should use this as a course to perform the procedure. I know how disconcerting this is to a physician, so I can't imagine how this sounds to a patient. Just so we're clear, doctors don't usually learn new procedures like a bone marrow aspiration on YouTube. As I watched the video, it was clear that many of the things the doctor was doing were clearly wrong, based on what's been published in the peer-reviewed medical literature. In addition, given that my partners and I have spent 11 years mastering and studying this technique, most of it was also wrong based on the data we've collected.

So How Hard Can a BMA Be? Is It Difficult to Take Stem Cells from the Iliac Crest?

If you're a doctor or a patient, the answers to those questions can be found by watching the two-and-a-half-minute video critique above. The upshot? One of the things that really upsets me is seeing how the knowledge that we've put together over the last 11 years has been lost in a game of telephone. Just like the early Xerox machines where a copy of a copy of a copy no longer bears much resemblance to the original, the same has happened in stem cells. It's scary to me that physicians aren't learning how to draw stem cells correctly, so my partners and I are putting on a nonprofit course through the 501(c)(3) organization the Interventional Orthopedics Foundation. The goal is to teach physicians the right way to do these procedures so they can avoid learning everything they think they need know from a YouTube video!   To find out if you might be a candidate for a Regenexx stem cell procedure, complete our Regenexx Procedure Candidate Form online.

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