Why Patients Are Willing to Gamble on Stem Cell Therapy

Undergoing stem cell therapy in order to avoid joint replacement surgery has been described as a gamble. The gambling analogy is used because there is no guarantee stem cell treatment will work. Fair enough. Yet there is a very good reason patients are willing to try stem cell injections, and it is encapsulated in a single word: desperation.

The point is well illustrated by a Lebanese family dealing with a problem far more serious than osteoarthritis. This family traveled 2,500 miles to participate in an experimental stem cell treatment they hoped would save the life of very sick baby. It worked, much to the delight of both the family and the hospital staff.

A Cure for Bubble Baby Disease

ADA-SCID is a genetic disease more commonly known as ‘bubble baby disease’. It is a disease that prevents the production of a certain enzyme necessary to fight infection. The disease kills most children born with it before their second birthdays. Hussein El Kerdi was diagnosed with bubble baby disease at three months of age.

Currently there is no cure recognized by the FDA or any other world health body. But a UCLA scientist and researcher has been working on a gene therapy treatment for several decades. Hussein’s parents decided that getting their baby to UCLA was the only way to save his life.

The therapy involves extracting stem cells from the patient’s blood, correcting the genetic defect, and then infusing those cells back into the patient. The cells are then able to do two things: create exact replicas of themselves and fix a broken immune system by allowing production of the previously missing enzyme.

UCLA’s Dr. Donald Kohn has thus far treated seven patients with this procedure. The first six have been successfully cured; the seventh is still being evaluated. Hussein was among the six cured patients. He is now back in Lebanon where he is described as a healthy, thriving child.

Desperation of Great Motivator

It is wonderful to know that Hussein’s life was spared by an experimental stem cell procedure. But what does that have to do with stem cell therapies for osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal injuries? A lot, actually. It all goes back to that word ‘desperation’.

Let’s say you are an osteoarthritis patient that has been living with excruciating knee pain for years. You have tried cortisone shots with limited success. You’ve been taking pain medications for as long as you can remember, but even they aren’t helping much anymore. Now you are faced with the possibility of knee replacement surgery. The surgery is quite common, but it’s far from a sure bet. You could wind up no better off for receiving artificial knees.

It’s reasonable to expect that you would be rather desperate. According to the Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute out of Salt Lake City, Utah, that’s exactly what drives patients to doctors offering stem cell treatments. Traditional medicine has not helped them, so they are desperate to find something that will.

A Safe and Viable Alternative

It’s true that osteoarthritis is not nearly as serious as bubble baby disease. But that doesn’t make the desperation experienced by osteoarthritis patients any less legitimate. The reality is that chest pain can be very debilitating. It can cause emotions every bit as real as those experienced by Hussein’s parents.

Stem cell therapy offers a safe and viable alternative to pain medication, cortisone shots, and replacement surgery. It works well for a lot of patients. And for those who don’t respond well, there is no damage done. Surgery can always be tried later on.