Stem cells are part of the emerging field of Regenerative Medicine. Biologics and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) are also regenerative medicine procedures. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) gained popularity after numerous elite professional athletes in a variety of sports began surfacing in the news media. That is old news, and stem cells much as they did in race horses are taking the notoriety in professional athletes away from PRP.
Regenerative Medicine deals with the field of regeneration and tissue engineering. Helping the body heal itself is a cornerstone. Growth factors in Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) assist tissues to heal by direct actions and by influences cell signaling responsible for tissue breakdown.
Stem cells are much more effective at this healing response than PRP alone.
That is because stem cells are master control cells. They have been referred to as medicinal cells by one prominent stem cell researcher for their ability to heal and control the immune system and anti-inflammatory properties.
Stem cells also are capable of differentiating into new cells in the knee most importantly is cartilage cells or chondrocytes. This process can be referred to as regeneration. The degree of regeneration may be dependent upon many factors. Regeneration may not always occur. Another property of stem cells is their ability to affect inflammation.
At times stem cells may exert their healing effect by controlling cell signaling which promote tissue breakdown or catabolism. By inhibiting catabolism or cartilage breakdown arthritis does not progress.
If repair is allowed to occur by regeneration than new cartilage growth can actually demonstrate reversal to some degree of the degenerative arthritis cascade. No other form of treatment is capable of doing this.
If knee breakdown is halted than no net cartilage loss occurs over a period of time which in itself is positive as well. Studies have shown that knee arthritis can progress significantly over a 3-5 year period on serial x-rays. Therefore measures showing no net loss are actually positive in a known progressive degenerative or arthritic situation.
Stem cells exert many more complicated effects by direct and indirect signaling with other cells and tissues. These multiple effects can be so complex that all possible interaction patterns for every situation, and each person own unique cell signaling responses may vary by multiple other factors further augmenting or confusing the issue.
Needles to say there are some patients who will always respond better than others. No different than younger healthier patients typically respond better to any procedure. Many of the reasons apply equally to stem cell effectiveness.
Stem cells still have some hidden mysteries, as do our own brains. Yet the therapeutic potential and applications of stem cells continue to expand in many areas of medicine.