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HEALTHLINE NEWS

New Technology Uses Body Fat to Help Relieve Joint Pain

The Lipogems technology has great promise, but experts say it’ll take time to assess how successful the new procedure is.

What if you could put that little bit of body fat around your midsection to good use?

A procedure called Lipogems utilizes a person’s body fat as a source of stem cells to help treat arthritis and joint conditions.

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At least that’s the promise.

Lipogems was approved for widespread use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November 2016, and it’s already garnering a lot of attention.

Rush University Medical Center recently became the first sports medicine specialists in the Midwest to offer treatment with the device.

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“The technology is ideal for patients with certain orthopedic conditions, such as painful joints — including the knee, ankle, or shoulder — with limited range of motion. Additionally, it can be used in soft tissue defects located in tendons, ligaments, and/or muscles to improve the biologic environment,” said Dr. Brian Cole, professor of orthopedic surgery, and section head of the Rush Cartilage Restoration Center, in a press release.

Read more: Stem cell therapies offering hope for MS patients »

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Utilizing the fat

Stem cells work by growing and differentiating themselves into different cells in the body based on the site of injection.

They are believed to help the natural regenerative processes in the body.

Hence they have earned the nickname as “mini drug stores” based on their ability to secrete “a spectrum of bioactive molecules” and “support the natural regeneration of focal injuries.”

Stem cells can be harvested from certain parts of the human body, most notably bone marrow and adipose tissue (fat).

Harvesting bone marrow stem cells is a significantly more invasive and time-consuming procedure that is performed using general anesthesia.

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Lipogems offers a novel approach to orthopedic stem cell treatments by using a person’s own fat.

The procedure uses a small incision into an area of subcutaneous fat, from which a quantity of fat tissue is harvested and processed by the Lipogems apparatus.

“The technology itself, which really is the device that processes the fat, creates a concentration of fat that has been cleansed of all the extraneous things like red blood cells and fibrous tissues,” Cole told Healthline.

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The concentrated stem cells within that fat tissue are then applied to the problematic joint or bone area.

The procedure can be completed in under 30 minutes.

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Read more: Stem cell therapy a possible treatment for rheumatoid arthritis »

Not new science 

Lipogems offers a streamlined procedure for stem cell treatment, but there is nothing new about the science itself.

The use of stem cells to treat a variety of conditions has been ongoing for some time now.

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As Healthline reported earlier this year, stem cells have been touted as a breakthrough treatment for some time, but real proof of efficacy is still being researched.

The same is true for Lipogems.

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“What we’re lacking is really good data at this point in the clinical setting,” Cole said. “There is substantial data in the laboratory suggesting that these cells may function in the way I’ve described: reducing inflammation and so forth. But, we really don’t have yet much in the way of good solid clinical data saying that definitively this is making a difference.”

He further cautions individuals thinking that the new procedure, or that stem cells in general, are a panacea.

Read more: Unproven stem cell treatments offer hope but also risks »

Part of the toolbox

Instead, he would like those seeking orthopedic treatment to understand that Lipogems is just one part of a much larger and more complex suite of tools used by physicians.

It has to be taken into context of all the other possible treatment options, from simply icing down a swollen ankle, to changing your daily activity, to surgery.

“The unfortunate thing is that people think, well this is the solution that can be used instead of, say, a joint replacement and no longer do we need to do surgery,” said Cole.

“Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Nonetheless, Cole and his team are still excited about the possibilities of the Lipogems procedure.

Using a readily available and easily accessible substance like fat as a source of stem cells could have far-reaching implications for procedures in the future.

“We’re optimistic and intuitively there is a good argument to be made that this is as good or better than any other source of stem cells,” said Cole.

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