Regenexx Begins: Finding and Keeping True North Since 2005
POSTED ON 3/16/2018 IN Regenerative Medicine Education BY Christopher Centeno
My daughter and wife the other night were cracking up at a 2007 video they found of me, awkwardly in front of my computer, creating a welcome video for the brand new Regenexx website! I included it above for your amusement. I guess this was supposed to be an intro to the website that never really aired as far as I can tell. So it's kind of a Regenexx outtake! However, it drives home the point of just how much things have grown and changed since 2007.
Understanding the History of Regenexx
So what came before this awkward video? At that point we had just completed a two-year, IRB-approved research study of the use of both culture-expanded and same-day stem cells to treat knee and hip arthritis and low-back degenerative disc disease. John Schultz and I were WAY out on a limb, as in 2005 when we began and in 2007 when I sat down to make this video, nobody else on earth was using cultured stem cells for these applications. In fact, nobody was using same-day stem cells either. The only other person who was doing anything similar was Phillipe Hernigou in Paris who had published on orthopedic bone applications. So if something went wrong, it was literally our medical licenses on the line.
Where Is Regenexx Now vs. Then?
Back in 2007, we were a steroid-based block shop where we burned nerves with radiofrequency probes to help pain. Much like most clinics still are today. We knew we could do better by our patients, which is why we did that initial study. Today, I don't remember the last time I injected a high-dose, harmful steroid into a patient's body or burned important nerves! As I said above, we were "it" back then. No textbooks to learn from, no articles to rely on, no colleagues to call or consult. Today, it seems like everyone and his brother has jumped on the stem cell bandwagon. Some of that is good, but some of it's also disappointing. Back then we were a tiny two-man clinic in Colorado. We had a small lab that was a converted patient room with a hood, incubator, and some work space. Now we have a 14,000-square-foot facility in Colorado with six physicians who all do 100% regen med. We also have a large clean room, cell processing facility, and research lab and team with several doctorate-level and other researchers. We also have more than a million dollars in lab equipment! Back then we were one clinic; now we have more than 50 US affiliate clinics and several international sites. In fact, we have clinics in Australia, Taiwan, Belgium, and Grand Cayman with new clinics coming on board in the U.K. and China. Just this week, our UK physicians were in training with us. In 2007 we had no published research. Now we have more than 20 peer-reviewed studies. We also just completed our first randomized controlled trial for knee arthritis. We're also still recruiting two more RCTs in shoulder rotator cuff tears and knee ACL injuries. We also have 3–4 more publications in the queue. Sitting there recording this video, there was no such thing as interventional orthopedics. It hadn't been invented yet. We're proud to say that we, along with the help of many others, did that. There also was no Interventional Orthopedics Foundation (IOF). Between the generous support of billionaire philanthropist John Malone and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from our team in Colorado and others like the ED Nancy Ho, it's now a major and well-funded force building a new medical specialty. Back then we had no fellows. In fact, there was nothing much to teach as we were still figuring out the basics. Now we have three young physicians a year we mentor and train. In fact, we now have a very competitive program where we have much more interest than we can accommodate, so we're trying to expand that program across more Regenexx network sites. In 2007, the idea that insurance companies or employers would one day cover this stuff was a pipe dream. Here in 2018, we have now completed a major fund-raising round to add more and more self-insured companies. In addition, about 500,000 people in the U.S. now have Regenexx procedures covered through their health insurance! That's largely thanks to the vision of our new CEO Jason Hellickson. Finally, back then, there was no blog. That began with our website, the one I was working on in 2007 when I recorded this video. Since then, I have created almost 2,500 blog posts, which is more than twice as many pages as the novel War and Peace!
I have a ton of people who have shared this dream and helped in a major way to make it possible. First, my amazing wife. Second, John Schultz has been right there chopping wood and carrying water since the very beginning. Others, like our old practice manager Carl Measer, played a major role in figuring out how to turn the dream into a reality. John Pitts and Jason Markle helped to blaze trails in our fellowship program and then build the Colorado HQ. Without the late Mitchell Fuerst and Andy Ittleman to help us navigate the regulatory morass, we also wouldn't be here. Phillip Ebanks and crew have allowed us to continue our groundbreaking culture expanded stem cell work by licensing our technology in Grand Cayman. Rob Kramberg was our first affiliate physician and still does an amazing job of finding new research content for the blog. After Rob, a core group of physicians and others saw the vision for a quality-over-quantity-based provider network focused on interventional orthopedics. I would also like to thank our other fellows, including Ben Newton, Jamil Bashir, Chris Williams, and Matt Hyzy who have each added their own knowledge and built upon ours. Countless others like Carol Yates, Char Tow, Mark Reilly, Michelle Chavez, Mark Testa, Micah Zackroff, Cara Cairns, Nicolette Lyons, Michelle Cheever, John Kisiday, Cristin Keohan, Debbie Zinn, Bridgette Lang, Jamie Macias, Regina Halverson, Neven Steinmetz, Ehren Dodson, Dustin Berger, Ian Stemper, Eric Speer and many others have worked hard to make this all happen.
How Has the Good Dr. Centeno Changed?
The good news? I'm in better physical shape than I was back then! The bad news? I don't have brown hair anymore (it's firmly gray), and I have a bit less of it. However, my wife claims she likes it better gray? That's when I threaten to color it back, so it's good I'm happily married; otherwise, I'd be a wrinkly old guy with dark hair, which always looks a bit funny. The upshot? This video is a stroll down memory lane! It's been 13 years since this dream came into my head and Schultz and I embarked on Mr. Toad's wild ride! It's been fun, fulfilling, exciting, and lots of hard work. Last night, I was watching the movie Lincoln on Netflix and his story about his compass and surveying hit home. He said: "A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it'll...it'll point you True North from where you're standing, but it's got no advice about the swamps and dessert and chasm that you'll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp...What's the use of knowing True North?" This journey has definitely been tough at times, but because we have always kept our "true north" of placing patients first, we have grown and made the dream into reality and avoided the obstacles. Last night, we had our whole physician team assembled around anatomy pictures on a screen. We were trying to figure out a better way to more reliably and safely inject a ligament that no other human being has ever treated with stem cells or anything else. It's that kind of excitement for helping people who otherwise might need huge surgeries that keeps us all going. That was the best example of our "true north" I know.
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