Chicago orthopedic physicians are urging patients to do their homework before opting for stem cells and other biologic therapies for orthopedic conditions. (view video here)

According to a 2016 study, more than 570 U.S. clinics are offering stem cell therapy for conditions ranging from glaucoma to knee pain. Many of these clinics are administering therapies that haven’t been fully researched or not recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last year, the FDA announced increased efforts to better regulate the industry when it discovered some stem cell clinics weren’t using best practices. It is taking action against clinics that could endanger patients’ health.

“There are a lot of providers making claims that they can eliminate pain or fix orthopedic problems with stem cells,” explains Dr. Kathleen Weber, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush physician. “It’s important that patients seeking alternatives look for experienced physicians at research-based institutions using safe, well-studied treatments.”

Biologic therapy (or biologics) refers to the use of naturally-produced cells, growth factors, blood components and other substances that are injected into the body to promote healing and decrease inflammation. The use of stem cells has been used for years to stimulate the re-growth of healthy, new cells in cancer patients. Today, it has expanded to include treating orthopedic and spine conditions, including osteoarthritis, tendonitis and degenerative disc disease.

Biologics used for treating orthopedic conditions most commonly refers to the injection of platelet rich plasma or stem cells. Platelet rich plasma is produced from a small sample of a patient’s own blood spun in a centrifuge to isolate the healing properties. Stem cells are typically drawn from an area in the hip or pelvis. These stem cell products can be used alone or in conjunction with surgery to ideally speed healing and reduce inflammation.

Experts agree that there is still much to learn about the use of biologics.

“We have been studying the use of injectable biologic products and cartilage tissue transplantation to treat orthopedic conditions for more than 20 years,” says Dr. Adam Yanke, MOR sports medicine surgeon. “We are only comfortable using techniques that are backed by solid science.”