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Stromal Cell Therapy for Joint Pain & Injury


NOTE:  All blog postings on the AFWC website are intended for purely educational purposes and not as personalized medical advice.  We advise you to speak with a healthcare professional before making any health or lifestyle decisions.

The Alaska Family Wellness Center is pleased to announce a new service available soon to patients, Autologous  Adipose-Derived Stem/Stromal Therapy!

Yes, we know that is a “mouthful” and may have caused a few eyes to glaze over. So let’s take that big term and break it down so you will understand what it means and how it may be of value to you.

“Autologous” refers to the fact that the source material for this treatment is harvested from your body, not another adult or a fetus but from you!  This means we are using your own body to heal yourself, just refocusing it. And there is no risk of an allergic reaction to a foreign substance.

“Adipose Derived” means we harvest these cells from your fat layer and most of us have some of that we are glad to put towards better use.  On women this is often on the outer thighs and on men it is on the abdomen or the “tires” on the sides. The other place sometimes used to harvest stem cells is the bone marrow.  However, our body fat has 500-1000 times more stem cells in a given volume than bone marrow and it is MUCH easier to harvest with much less discomfort.

“Stem/Stromal” refers to the special cells we harvest and use to trigger a uniquely natural but much more potent healing response.  The topic of stem cells has been much in the news recently.  The idea is that we all have cells that have the potential to be awakened into a replacement cell for a damaged or missing cell.  In our case, we use those stem cells to repair and replace damaged cartilage, ligaments, tendons or muscles. The reference to “stromal” tissue is the recognition that there is more going on with this technique that just stem cells.  Many of the other cells and materials harvested in this procedure play a key role in triggering this healing response.

How is this treatment used?

It is used to trigger the regrowth and repair of cartilage in arthritis or a torn meniscus, repair damaged and partially torn ligaments and tendons and finally in chronic muscle tears. This is especially good for those problems that haven’t responded to other forms of prolotherapy using dextrose or PRP, a concentrate of platelets sometimes used promote healing.

How is this procedure done?

We start by drawing blood which is then spun in a special machine to concentrate the platelets, known as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP).  This takes a while so is being prepared while we harvest the stem/stromal cells. We do this by locating a good pocket of fatty tissue, clean the skin and numb the entry site for the fat harvest.  Then, using a technique very similar to liposuction a small volume of fat is harvested.  This is set up to settle out the layers and after a few minutes the stem/stromal cell level is isolated from the other layers. This is then mixed with the PRP in preparation for injection into the injured or damaged area.  We combine these two as they play different roles in the healing process.  Think of PRP as the brick mason who can do the repair of a damaged wall.  As long as he has some good bricks around, he can fix the wall on his own.  Think of the stem/stromal cells as the bricks and mortar.  When both are present the brick mason can rebuild the wall.  In reality, the “brick mason” is Dr. Fischer.  He uses an ultrasound machine to see exactly where the problem is located and puts the “bricks and mortar” stem/stromal cells and PRP on exactly the area where they are needed.  Patients have to avoid anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to allow the natural healing process to proceed. The response time varies – some improve or resolve with one treatment and others need more than one treatment.  We generally watch for the slow change and resolution of problems over 1-3 months.  Sometimes we add a little boost to the process with a repeat of PRP injected on the problem area.

Watch our website and Facebook page for more information on this exciting new treatment!