Orthobiologics Part 3 – Adipose Tissue Cell Therapy

Adipose—better known as fat—has a poor reputation among many people. This may be easy to understand when you consider that, aside from tobacco, there is possibly no greater threat to the collective health of the American population than obesity. And like tobacco, the effects of obesity are vast and deep; scientists have conclusively linked it to many serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, kidney stones, gallstones, infertility, and many types of cancer.

With that said, it is also important to understand that the optimal amount of body fat actually provides many important health benefits. For instance, it stores and releases energy, regulates the body’s metabolism, cushions soft internal organs, and insulates the body from hot and cold temperatures. In recent years, scientists have discovered another potential benefit of fatty tissue: It can serve as a practical and plentiful source of adult (mesenchymal) stem cells, which have the innate ability to self-renew.

A form of regenerative medicine, adipose tissue cell therapy capitalizes on the natural repair mechanisms of stem cells to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. Harvested from a patient’s own fatty tissue, adipose-derived stem cells are an orthobiologic product that can be used to promote the healing of injured and degenerated bones, cartilage, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

How Does Adipose Tissue Cell Therapy Work?

Unlike any other cells in the human body, stem cells are undifferentiated, which means they have the unique and powerful ability to transform themselves into specific types of tissues. While inside the body—or under the right circumstances in a lab—stem cells can divide to create “daughter cells,” which may become new stem cells or differentiated (specialized) cells that can perform a specific function, such as bone cells. As such, stem cells can be precisely guided by a physician to become the specific type of cells needed to repair and regenerate a patient’s damaged tissues.

Some people are familiar with bone marrow aspirate therapy, another form of regenerative medicine that works essentially the same way as adipose tissue cell therapy. The main difference is that the stem cells are derived from the patient’s bone marrow instead of their adipose.

Benefits of Adipose Tissue Cell Therapy

Studies show that stem cells freshly isolated from fat can work just as well as the more commonly used stem cells isolated from bone marrow. However, adipose tissue is a much greater reservoir of stem cells than bone marrow, and a large number of cells can be harvested from fatty tissue relatively easily. Also, while bone marrow-derived stem cells may lose their healing capacity with age, adipose-derived stem cells are believed to maintain some of their reparative properties over time.

For certain patients, adipose tissue stem cell therapy can be an effective alternative to surgery for treating nonunion fractures, rotator cuff tears, and other slow-healing orthopedic injuries that do not improve with traditional conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Adipose tissue cell therapy may also be considered to address other painful musculoskeletal conditions that cannot be surgically repaired, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tennis elbow
  • Golfer’s elbow
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Quadriceps tendon tears
  • Patellar tendon tears
  • Partial muscle tears
  • Meniscal (cartilage) tears in the knee
  • Degenerative disc disease

Because adipose tissue cell therapy is precisely administered to the treatment site, the physician can minimize any disruption to the surrounding healthy tissues. Overall, the risk of complications is low, and because the stem cells are harvested from the patient’s own body, there is no risk of allergic reaction or immune rejection.

What Does an Adipose Tissue Cell Therapy Procedure Involve?

Typically, adipose tissue stem cell therapy begins with abdominal liposuction-aspiration, which is performed in an operating room. After cleansing the skin in the patient’s midsection and administering a local anesthetic to numb the area, the physician will make a tiny incision and insert a syringe into the underlying fatty tissue. Using the syringe, the physician will draw a small amount of fluid, which will be sent to a lab for processing.

In the lab, the sample will be placed in a rapidly rotating device (centrifuge). By spinning the fluid at a high speed for several minutes, the centrifuge will use centrifugal force to separate the fluid into its various components, one of which is a high concentration of adipose-derived stem cells. No additional time is needed to culture the sample before it is used.

Next, the physician will cleanse the skin in the treatment area and administer a local anesthetic to numb it. Guided by real-time ultrasound imaging, the physician will then inject the adipose-derived stem cells directly into the injury site. Once in place, the injected cells may work with the surrounding cells, just as they do when they are naturally present in the body, to accelerate the healing of damaged tissues. The goal is to create a stem-cell-rich scaffold, which the body can use for support as it generates new tissues.

From start to finish, an adipose tissue cell therapy procedure takes approximately one hour. In most cases, the patient can go home on the same day.

Talk With a Sports Medicine Specialist

If you are interested in orthobiologics and would like to learn more about adipose tissue cell therapy, you can talk with an experienced primary care sports medicine physician at Florida Medical Clinic. Contact us at 813-979-6978 to request an appointment at our New Tampa office, which is conveniently located at 15285 Amberly Drive.

About W. Andrew Sprouse, MD

Dr. Sprouse is a primary care sports medicine physician who specializes in orthobiologics and stem-cell-based therapies, including adipose tissue cell therapy and bone marrow aspirate therapy. Drawing on the power of stem cells harvested from the patient’s own body, these innovative non-surgical treatments can reduce inflammation, relieve chronic pain, and supercharge the body’s natural repair processes.


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