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Understanding Orthobiologics: PRP and Stem Cells

Photo of a doctor and surgeon.

/ by Austin V. Stone, MD, PhD

Written by Dr. Austin V. Stone, UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.

If you follow pro or college sports, you may have noticed that biologic treatments for orthopaedic injuries are an emerging trend. And with local and national “regenerative” clinics touting the effects of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells, you may have some questions. 

What are orthobiologics?

Orthobiologics are simply products that come from our own bodies used to help the body heal, like platelet-rich plasma (PRP), bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC), adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (cells from body fat) and amniotic derived products (those made from amniotic tissue). 

Types of treatment

PRP is created by taking a small amount of your blood, concentrating the growth factors, and then using it to treat an orthopaedic condition. Certain conditions can be treated by PRP, but it is important that the right type of PRP is used. Some injuries that may be helped by PRP include tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, chronic patellar tendonitis and knee osteoarthritis. 

PRP has not been shown to be better than cortisone for rotator cuff tendonitis, shoulder impingement or partial rotator cuff tears. PRP does not help reduce rotator cuff pain or help rotator cuff tears heal. PRP does not regrow tissue or cartilage.

BMAC is another type of stem cell treatment that comes from your body. Bone marrow is taken using a large needle impacted in the bone, and these cells can help stimulate healing in certain conditions. There is limited data to support BMAC use, but more studies are currently in progress. BMAC does not regrow tissue or cartilage.

Fat derived stem cells (marketed as LIPOGEMS) recently became approved by the FDA for treating certain orthopaedic conditions but supporting data is very limited. These cells are not proven to regrow musculoskeletal tissue.

How we can help

Orthobiologics represents an exciting area for improving pain and function for patients with orthopaedic problems, but not all conditions can be treated with orthobiologics. There are many different treatment options, so it is important to have the expertise of the subspecialty-trained team at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine. 

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