Stem Cell Clinics Pitch Pricey, Bogus 'Cures' for Knee Pain

From - March 7, 2018

Stem Cell Clinics Pitch Pricey, Bogus 'Cures' for Knee Pain

WEDNESDAY, March 7, 2018 -- Stem cell clinics are charging big money for knee arthritis "cures" and making extravagant claims about their therapies, a new study contends.

A same-day injection for one knee costs thousands of dollars at these centers, according to a consumer survey taken of clinics across the United States.

People are paying that kind of cash because two-thirds of stem cell clinics promise that their treatments work 80 to 100 percent of the time, researchers report.

But there's no medical evidence suggesting that any stem cell therapy can provide a lasting cure for knee arthritis, said study lead researcher Dr. George Muschler, an orthopedic surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic.

"There are claims made about efficacy [effectiveness] that are not supported by the literature," Muschler said. "There's a risk of charlatanism, and patients should be aware."

Stem cells have gained a reputation as a miracle treatment and potential cure for many ailments. The cells have the potential to provide replacement cells for any part of the body -- blood, brain, bones or organs.

As a result, a wave of stem cell centers have opened up around the country, offering cures for a variety of diseases, Muschler said.

"It's very sexy to market yourself as a stem cell center, so there's been a boom of centers, probably close to 600 now in the United States offering this therapy," Muschler said. "But the truth is that the medical literature has not quite caught up to the enthusiasm in the marketplace."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed extreme skepticism over these centers, and in November the agency announced that it would crack down on clinics offering dangerous stem cell treatments.

The "pie-in-the-sky" dream for knee arthritis patients is that a stem cell injection will produce fresh new protective cartilage in their joint, said Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

"The reality is they do not do that. There is zero data to suggest that," said Rodeo, who was not involved with the study. "The idea these cells are going to regenerate cartilage -- there's zero data."

At best, these injections might temporarily reduce pain and inflammation by prompting the release of soothing chemicals in the knee, Rodeo and Muschler said.

To get an idea what stem cell centers are promising customers, Muschler and his colleagues called 273 U.S. clinics posing as a 57-year-old man with knee arthritis.

The clinics were asked about same-day stem cell injections, how well they work and how much they cost.

Of the 65 centers that provided pricing information, the average cost for a knee injection was $5,156, with prices ranging from $1,150 to $12,000, the researchers found. Fourteen centers charged less than $3,000 for a single injection, while 10 centers charged more than $8,000.

The 36 centers that provided information on effectiveness claimed an average effectiveness of 82 percent, the researchers said. Of them, 10 claimed that the injection worked 9 out of 10 times, and another 15 claimed 80 to 90 percent effectiveness.

The findings were presented Tuesday at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting, in New Orleans. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Continue reading at »