Blue Iguanas and Stem Cells

Blue Iguanas are an endangered species native to Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. I just returned from there after having some bone marrow removed from the posterior crest of my pelvis. The stem cells that my body produces, specifically Mesenchymal Stem Cells, will be separated out from my bone marrow and cultured by Regenexx—a company specializing in Regenerative Medicine. The harvested stem cells will multiply in a culture medium 100 fold or more. In six weeks I will return there to have the stem cells injected into my bone-on-bone arthritic knee. If all goes well, the injected stem cells will grow into cartilage that will lubricate and cushion my knee joint and save me from having artificial knee surgery.

There is no guarantee this procedure will work. According to 2015 data contained in Regenexx’s Registry, they treated 1,825 patients with knee arthritis with their proprietary, three-step Regenexx-C stem cell procedure. The average age of their patients was fifty-seven years old. Most were male and only slightly overweight. Their data showed that an average of forty-six percent had significant (50 percent or better) improvement within three months. An average of fifty-five percent was similarly improved after one year. They’re not promising miracles and I’m not expecting any, but for me the rewards exceed the risks (primarily a healthy chunk of change.) Nothing beats naturally-formed cartilage—it’s tough and slipperier than ice on ice.

So why does one have to go all the way to the Cayman Islands to get this kind of treatment? Good question. If I was younger and pumping out a lot of stem cells, I could receive one of their proprietary treatments in the US from a handful of physicians specially trained in their technique. However, I’m seventy-three years old. My body is chewing up stem cells far faster than I can produce them and the success rate of their procedure is directly proportional to the number of stem cells injected into an ailing joint. A few thousand cells probably wouldn’t help me much. My knee is too damaged. Thus, I need to harvest and grow my stem cells. And the closest place to legally grow them is in the Cayman Islands.

It turns out the Federal Drug Administration has determined that growing one’s own stem cells is in effect creating a new drug. It takes about 500 million dollars and ten years to create a new drug approved by the FDA. Regenexx tried to get FDA approval to culture stem cells in the US but failed. They then decided to move their cell-culturing facilities to the Caribbean. I’d love to have lots of double-blind studies and FDA approval for a stem cell treatment, but I’ll settle for the fact that Regenexx closely tracks their results in an ongoing registry.

I heard that one of the Manning brothers—I assume it was Peyton—had a stem cell treatment in Europe that allowed him to continue playing football. If the story is true, and a guy with three neck surgeries was able to return to football and win a Super Bowl, then I would be mightily impressed. But not impressed enough to try an expensive treatment myself. I needed to do much more research and investigation into stem cell treatments before making a decision on a mere anecdote. I’d recommend you do your own research and make decisions based on consultation with your own physician. These treatments are not covered by insurance. Hopefully, someday they will.

There are a number of stem cell clinics in the US, but they’re less experienced then Regenexx and none do stem cell cultures that I know of. And many are outright scams. These disreputable clinics may inject you with stem cells, but they won’t tell you the stem cells are from sharks or sheep. Or maybe even from blue iguanas.