I get asked all the time by patients about hyberbaric oxygen and stem cells. Should they use Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) to help their stem cells before or after a procedure? The answer is regrettably complex and subtle.
HBOT uses oxygen at higher than normal pressures to drive it into tissues that have poor blood supply. So it’s “high oxygen” therapy. First, we know that Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) love low oxygen (hypoxia) because they naturally live in this environment. This low oxygen keeps them undifferentiated (a blank slate). So what does high oxygen do to MSCs?
A recent study sheds some light on the effects of HBOT on same day stem cell treatments using bone marrow. In an animal model of fracture repair using bone marrow concentrate, animals that got HBOT had better micro-blood supply and fracture healing. In another animal study, HBOT increased the ability of MSCs to make new bone. To put a finer point on that idea, another study showed that this increased bone formation happens more in stem cells from older animals. In another interesting animal study, short-term HBOT increased the very small number of stem cells that could be isolated from the blood.
The upshot? Is HBOT a good idea with stem cells? It may or may not be a good game plan. If the patient has a fracture that needs healing it may be helpful, outside of that the jury is still out.