There are an ever increasing supply of physicians who have taken a weekend course to deliver fat stem cell arthritis treatments. What should patients know? All stem cells are created equal, right? Wrong. Let me explain.

For many patients, the term “stem cell” means a single type of cell that can help treat disease. However, nothing could be farther from the truth, as there are hundreds of different kinds of stem cells, each with their own properties and uses. As an example of this, a recent paper highlights how fat stem cells taken from two different sources have completely different potentials in helping arthritis.

There are stem cells in your body that keep you alive. Believe it or not, these little “repairmen” are in every tissue you have. When an injury happens, they spring into action to help repair the local area. We accumulate small injuries everyday, so without these stem cells, we would soon be like an old car where the oil, tires, and windshield wipers were never replaced, a broken down shadow of our former selves.

Fat stem cells make more fat for a living. So if you had trauma to an area where they live, they will help create more fat tissue and the blood supply to support it. This is why they’re so good for cosmetic purposes, as adding fat that will stay in an area can be a big bonus in enhancing appearance. However, what they don’t do all day is make cartilage, so fat stem cell use for orthopedics has been shown to be less than optimal in the peer reviewed research. Now a new study shows us just how important the location of stem cell harvest is to their final use.

The new study took fat stem cells from the “fat deposits” many Americans are trying to decrease and compared them to fat deposits in the knee. The fat stem cells in the knee all came from a very specific spot under the knee cap, the Infra-patellar Fat Pad (IFP). The belly fat stem cells turned out to be better at creating bone, but were quite poor at creating cartilage. The IFP cells were good at making cartilage and less adept at making bone. Why? multiple studies have shown that the daily function of the stem cell impacts it’s proclivities. So for example, stem cells that are from the heart are better at creating new heart muscle than stem cells taken from fat or bone marrow.

Why is this important? Many fat stem cell clinics often show studies performed by others that use IFP cells to help arthritis, when what they’re actually doing is harvesting the very different belly fat stem cells. Regrettably, the comparison is apples to oranges.

The upshot? A stem cell taken from one part of the body isn’t the same as one taken from another. Most of the physicians using stem cells today who learned their craft in a weekend course weren’t taught this distinction. However, an educated patient, should know the difference!

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