Reality TV star Tarek El Moussa – host of HGTV’S “Flip or Flop” – recently posted photos on Instagram detailing his experience with stem cell therapy.
El Moussa has a history of back injuries causing severe pain. He lost 50 pounds while recovering from one back injury and was taking “large amounts of pain meds to try and help the pain.”
“Truthfully those meds really affected my mental and physical state and changed who I was,” El Moussa posted.
When he recently injured his back again and could “barely walk,” El Moussa decided stem cell therapy was a better option. In one photo of the stem cell procedure, El Moussa shows a 12-inch needle being inserted into his lower back to remove fat cells, a procedure similar to liposuction.
“I believe they put over 1,000,000 stem cells back in my body after the lipo. It's wild seeing the technology and future of medicine,” he wrote.
A post-operative photo shows El Moussa’s discolored and bruised lower back three days later. He said he was still “a little sore” but that his back was “actually feeling better!” He’s hoping for a “major improvement” from the procedure in a few weeks.
El Moussa’s therapy involved a controversial stem cell product known as stromal vascular fraction (SVF). It’s the same product at the center of two lawsuits recently filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FDA against stem cell clinics in Florida and California.
What is Stromal Vascular Fraction?
SVF uses autologous stem cells derived from a patient’s own body, including adipose (fat) cells obtained through liposuction. When injected back into the body, these stem cells stimulate the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties, and promote the development of new blood vessels. All help to heal injured tissues.
For clinicians, the attraction of SVF is that the procedure is “point of care” or delivered at the time of care. In theory, this would exempt the therapy from FDA rules for stem cell products under the “same surgical procedure” exception. The FDA, however, doesn’t agree with that interpretation and has yet to approve SVF use. It considers the procedure unproven and experimental. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of stem cell clinics from offering SVF therapy.
SVF generally has a good safety profile. Potential risks of SVF therapy include lack of standardization of SVF products and terminology, unwanted tissue differentiation, poor cell handling and insufficient data on dose versus effect.
Evidence regarding the clinical efficacy of SVF in treating painful conditions is limited. Jaewoo Pak, MD successfully treated patients with knee osteoarthritis. Their pain scores, functional ability and cartilage regeneration were all improved through SVF therapy. Pak also achieved success in treating meniscus tears and osteoarthritis of the hip.
In 2015, three researchers for the Cell Surgical Network (who are defendants in the FDA lawsuits) reported on their treatment of 1,524 patients with SVF who lived with painful conditions such as osteoarthritis. About 25% of the patients showed evidence of new cartilage formation in their joints and 80% had a significant reduction in pain. The beneficial effects of SVF were sustained for well over six months and some for several years. The researchers also reported success in treating neurodegenerative diseases, with 80% of the patients with interstitial cystitis showing pain reduction.
Despite the controversy and lawsuits, El Moussa and thousands of other patients are willing to give SVF therapy a try. We’ll keep you updated on his progress.
A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.
Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.