Updated: Mar 4
One of the most attractive things about stem cell injections for some patients is being able to avoid surgery. Plenty of people would rather try stem cell injections than go under the knife, knowing full well that surgery is invasive, costly, and rife with potential complications.
Knowing that, here’s a question: how do you feel about combining stem cells and surgery in a single procedure?
Such a combination is already being studied at Marshall Health in Teays Valley, West Virginia. Lead practitioner Dr. Chad Lavender refers to the procedure as ‘fertilized ACL’, according to a story published by the Herald Dispatch. It is a procedure used to treat injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Bone Grafts and Stem Cells
The Herald Dispatch describes the procedure as one in which the doctor drills into the tibia to reach the injured ligament, just as would be done in a traditional ACL surgery. Once the holes are drilled though, the procedure takes an interesting turn.
The doctor places an internal brace over the ligament and attaches it to the bone to keep the grafted material in place. Then a combination of stem cells and bone graft are injected into the space to allow healing to begin. The patient donates his/her own stem cells and bone graft material, making the procedure completely autologous.
Lavender has apparently performed the procedure more than 30 times since testing began just over a year ago. The results have been very promising. Lavender told the Herald Dispatch that his patients have reported “significantly less pain earlier in their rehab.” In addition, many of them only took pain medication immediately following surgery.
What’s Going on Here
If you are a doctor visiting our site because you’re curious about regenerative medicine, you might be wondering at this point just what’s going on with this procedure. The answer is found in Lavender’s ‘fertilized ACL’ description. He compares the procedure to potting a plant. Rather than surgically removing damaged tissue and attaching grafted material to the neighboring bone, fertilized ACL works with the damaged ligament in place. The stem cell-bone graft mixture acts as fertilizer that encourages the body to work with the grafted ligament material more effectively.
Further Study Warranted
It should be obvious that a procedure like this will require a tremendous amount of study before it is ready for FDA approval. Lavender acknowledges as much, yet he still insists that the procedure is going to catch on quickly. He believes it can reduce rehab times and get more athletes who would otherwise be forced to consider retirement back into competition.
Marshall Health is now planning to move forward with further clinical trials. The Herald Dispatch says a 3-5-year trial is probably the next step. Such a study would likely involve upwards of 100 new patients. In the meantime, the idea of combining surgery with regenerative medicine is intriguing. It suggests the possibility that exclusivity is not necessarily the way to go. In other words, it may not be appropriate to say that regenerative medicine should be provided exclusive of other forms of treatment. The same is true in the other direction.
Fertilized ACL has thus far proven safe. Marshall Health hasn’t reported any serious complications or adverse reactions to the procedure. With that question answered, it is now a matter of determining whether or not the procedure is more effective than current treatments for ACL injuries. If it is, we are on the verge of something completely different. Who knows? We may have to start offering new forms of training in a few years.