Regenerative medicine involves creating living tissue to repair or replace tissues that are lost to age, disease, or damage.
Biological injections – such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP injections) or bone marrow aspirates – have gained interest in the orthopedic community. Nearly 30 studies have reported the benefits of injecting plasma from patients’ own blood into arthritic knees. PRP has been used to treat soft-tissue injuries such as tendinitis of the elbow, knee, and Achilles. The process involves an in-office blood draw from the arm. The blood is then spun down with a machine to separate the platelets. The platelet portion of the plasma contains many proteins that are important in repairing tissue. The patient’s platelets are then injected into the joint or tendon. Recent studies have favored PRP injections over hyaluronic acid injections in patients with knee arthritis.
One study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine gathered a group of patients with knee arthritis and randomized them to receive either a PRP injection or an injection with saline. Those with the PRP injection reported a 40 to 50 percent improvement in function, with pain reduced by half after six months. Another study, published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine from the Hospital of Special Surgery, found that articular cartilage volume was preserved one year after PRP injection. Most research reveals clinical improvements in patients with mild to moderate arthritis. There is evidence that those with moderate to severe arthritis may benefit as well.
Bone marrow aspirates are another option for obtaining cells with the potential of regenerating living tissue. This process involves harvesting cells in bone marrow that is stored in the pelvic bones. Certain cells have the ability to repair damaged tissues and have been used in many fields of medicine, including orthopedics, cardiovascular, and autoimmune disorders. In orthopedic surgery, bone marrow aspirates have been shown to heal fractures. There is ongoing research that isolates specific cells in the bone marrow and shows their potential to regenerate damaged tissues in joints.