Most Frequently Asked Questions About Stem Cell Therapy For The Spine

Adult Stem Cell Therapy Overview Adult Stem Cell Therapy Conditions and Procedures Advantages of Adult Stem Cell Therapy Stem Cell Therapy Frequently Asked Questions

Stem cell therapy is part of a growing medical field called regenerative medicine. This exciting and innovative field of medicine uses your body’s stem cells, most commonly derived from your bone marrow aspirate concentration (BMAC), to facilitate the healing process of tissue or organs throughout your body.  Some doctors also extract stem cells from adipose, fat around your abdomen, through a liposuction technique. Stem cells can be very instrumental in treating painful conditions of the spine, such as degenerative disc disease, a common cause of low back pain.

Research studies have shown good to excellent results in qualified candidates to heal and regenerate spinal disc.  However, stem cell therapy has limitations. Only patients with specific indications are candidates to benefit from this type of treatment.  For patients suffering from low back pain due to a degenerative or damaged disc, stem cells can be used to reduce the pain and potentially regenerate the disc.  


Here are the most commonly asked questions that patients ask about stem cell therapy:


What Are Stem Cells?

These cells are undifferentiated cells which live throughout your body that have the potential to transform into a specialized cell type depending on where they are placed.  Some of these specialized cells can create bone, cartilage and fat cells.


Where Do Stem Cells Come From?

Stem cells are present throughout your body in various tissues and organ systems.  For practical medical use, they are most common in bone marrow and fat tissues or adipose.  Other sources for the cells are epidermis (skin), retina, skeletal muscle, intestine, brain, liver, placenta, umbilical cord, and dental pulp.


What Are Autologous Adult Stem Cells Or Regenerative Cells?

Autologous adult stems cells are undifferentiated cells present in your blood from which other cells develop.  These regenerative stem cells are unique types of cells found throughout your body that can develop into specialized cells that make up tissue, muscle, and disc in your spine.  They were discovered more than 40 years ago when researchers found these cells in bone marrow. Studies have shown that under the right conditions adult stem cells can develop into specialized types of cells that repair and regenerate damaged tissue like the spinal disc.


What Are Different Types Of Stem Cells?

  •    Embryonic – are found in the umbilical cord or, and they give rise to more specialized cells that form the entire body and all tissue and organs
  •    Tissue-Specific Stem Cells – also called adult stem or somatic cells, are more specialized than embryonic stem cells.  These cells can generate different cells for specific tissue or organ in which they live.
  •    Mesenchymal Stem Cells – these adult stem cells are isolated from stroma, the connective tissue that surrounds other tissues and organs.  Mesenchymal cells were discovered in the bone marrow and shown to be capable of making cartilage, fat cells and bone.
  •    Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells – cells engineered in labs, taken from tissue-specific cells such as skin cells and converting them to behave like embryonic stem cells.  These cells are critical tools that help scientists learn more about our body’s development, disease onset, and progression and testing new therapies and drugs.


How Are Stem Cells Extracted And Prepared?

The most common and most abundant source of adult mesenchymal cells is extracted from bone marrow aspirate concentration, located in the hip bone (pelvis).  In this procedure, an orthopedic trained surgeon harvests these cells by numbing your skin and bone, and under fluoroscopic X-ray guidance, places a needle into the bone and aspirates bone marrow blood.  Then a trained nurse or technician, in a sterile environment uses an FDA approved class II device designed to concentrate and isolate the stem cells. Once the stem cells are concentrated, they give the sterile stem cells back to the surgeon for implantation to the damaged spinal disc.


The Benefits of Bone Marrow Aspirate Concentration (BMAC) For the Collection of Mesenchymal Adult Stem Cells Versus Adipose Fat-Derived Cells?

Which Is Best For Spinal Disc Tissue?

At the International Spine Institute, we only treat spinal discs that are degenerative and causing low back pain. Therefore, we only use BMAC to collect mesenchymal adult stem cells.  

  •    BMAC is extracted from bone marrow via needle aspiration from your pelvis bone. Adipose stem cells are taken from the abdomen via liposuction.
  •    Both BMAC and adipose contain mesenchymal stem cells that can help to heal, reduce inflammation and modulate immune cells.
  •    Adipose has a higher number of stem cells per volume than bone marrow concentrate. However, adipose does not have growth factors essential for new blood vessels that aid in healing a spinal disc.
  •   Without growth factors, or specialized cells that induce angiogenesis(growth of new blood vessels), no disc tissue will heal properly or completely. For the spinal disc, this is essential because it does not have a blood supply.
  •   Concentrated BMAC, is high in hematopoietic cells growth factors and mesenchymal stem cells, which are vital to the regeneration of tissue – including muscle, marrow, tendons, cartilage (spine disc) and connective tissue as well as bone formation.
  •    Additionally, orthopedic clinical studies targeting disc healing and regeneration have used bone marrow aspirate concentrate to successfully reduce low back pain symptoms.


What Are The Differences Between Embryonic Cells And Adult Stem Cells?

Embryonic stem cells come from the umbilical cord and can become all cell types of the body, tissue or organ.  Adult stem cells are limited to developing into different cell types of their origin tissue.


Will My Body Reject The Stem Cells?

In our practice, Dr. Rodriguez only uses autologous (from your body) stem cells taken from your bone marrow.  Since we are using your stem cells, they do not represent an immunogenic threat or concern for rejection by your body.


Which Back Conditions Could Stem Cells Help Benefit?

Dr. Rodriguez currently uses bone marrow stem cells for low back pain due to degenerative disc disease, annular or disc tears, bulging disc and in some cases herniated contained disc.  Each patient must meet medical criteria as part of the screening for proper candidacy for stem cell therapy.


How Long Does The Stem Cell Therapy Procedure Last?

A typical least invasive procedure only takes about 2 hours to extract stem cells from bone marrow, process them and implant them back into your spinal disc.  Most patients will go home within 3 hours of the procedure.


Is General Anesthesia Required For The Procedure?

Stem cell procedures can be performed with local anesthesia, where the surgeon numbs the skin and area of extraction, and target spinal disc.  Occasionally, oral or IV medication may be used to relax patients during the procedure.


What Can I Expect As Far As Pain After The Procedure?

After the procedure you may have some discomfort from your hip where the stem cells are extracted.  The intradiscal spinal injection may increase back pain for a few days after the injection. It is rare for patients to have prolonged back pain lasting weeks.  


How Soon Can A Patient Expect Results From The Stem Cell Injections?

Healing from this regenerative therapy takes time.  Typically, improved results are seen between 3 months up to 7 months.  Studies have shown the healing to continue for about a year.



Currently, the stem cell therapy conducted by Dr. Marco Rodriguez is an individualized treatment and is considered investigational.