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Helping your body heal itself

New push in Austin for adult stem cell therapy

Updated: Wednesday, 27 Jul 2011, 7:03 PM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 27 Jul 2011, 5:04 PM CDT

Leslie Rhode

AUSTIN (KXAN) – After kicking and punching his way through 15 years of Krav Maga self-defense classes, Pete Hardy’s knees were shot.

“Pretty much every morning I would have to get up and I would stay on eight to 10 Motrin a day to be able to function,” said Hardy, a 59-year-old self-defense instructor Pete Hardy whose knee cartilage was paper thin.

Doctors told Hard that surgery to replace his aching joints would likely be his only option. But he chose a more unlikely route — adult stem cell therapy.

Dr. Robert Johnson, an orthopedic surgeon, took Hardy’s own stem cells from bone marrow in his hip and put them back into his knee joints.  Johnson said the stem cells first reduced inflammation and pain and then became the cartilage Hardy is missing.

“What we’re doing is going to where they are stored, harvesting them and transferring them to where we think they’re needed,” said Johnson.

“Within three days, I was pain free and taught class the very next day,” said Hardy.  “I taught four classes the next day, so there was no down time whatsoever.

“I can jump the way I used to jump. I can kick the way I used to kick. I can move. I can spin. I can turn. I can do anything that 20 and 30 year old guys that I train can do. It’s remarkable.”

A new movement advocating adult stem cell research and therapies

Hardy and Dr. Johnson are part of a new nonprofit in Austin called MedRebels .  The group is funded primarily by two local medical product and research companies. They say more people could stay active and possibly disease free in the future if the medical community would give regenerative medicine and adult stem cells a chance.

The name MedRebels implies physicians should step up and rebel against the conventional treatments even though the stem cell therapies are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration .  MedRebels are pushing adult stem cell therapies and research and not those utilizing embryonic stem cells.

The group hopes by focusing only on adult stem cells, they can avoid the ethical and political controversy that often surrounds embryonic stem cell research.

“We’re considered to be a very conservative state, and Austin is considered to be a very liberal town,” said MedRebels board member and Celling Technologiesfounder Kevin Dunworth.  “That type of political environment wouldn’t lend itself to something that doesn’t sit right in the middle.  Both sides of the aisle can agree that adults stem cells are a great way to positively affect Texas not 20 years from now, but now.”

“I think Texas is really in the forefront of adult stem cell research,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been using adult stem cell therapies in his patients with spine fusions and in patients with other joint problems.  The risks, he said, are minimal including the risk of infection at the injection points in the bone and any risk that comes along with sedation.

The therapy is done on an out-patient basis. Johnson has had to do a second procedure on a few patients when the pain came back after a year or so. The long-term effects are still unknown.

“This is a biologic step,” said Johnson.  “This gets away from metal and plastic. This is recruiting the body to heal itself, and I think it’s a quantum leap ahead of everything else.”

Other doctors and researchers are skeptical of MedRebels’ motivation. They are also worried that MedRebels is pushing treatment that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Another adult stem cell success story

Austin hair stylist Lizzie Horn stood on her feet through months of extreme hip pain trying to keep her career going.  She also suffered through daily runs the active athlete had enjoyed for years.

“For about a year I just had a lot of hip pain,” Horn said.  “I do a lot of running, and full time I stand on my feet all day. With the running and standing on my feet, the pain pretty much got unbearable.”

Horn also opted for adult stem cell therapy after encouraging her physician to try the procedure. The doctor took her own stem cells from bone marrow in her hip and after treating it placed it back in to her hip joint. Horn is back on her feet and running.

“Now I’m up to 40, 50 miles a week with no pain,” Horn said. “It’s been great. It’s been over a year, and I’ve had no issues.”

Stem cell research in Austin

There are currently several Austin physicians involved in stem cell trials.  They include projects at University Medical Center Brackenridge , Austin Heart and Heart Hospital of Austin .
Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin are studying both adult and embryonic stem cells.  The National Institutes of Health runs an online data base compiling government and privately funded trials going on across the country.

One of MedRebels’ biggest backers, Celling Technologies based in Austin, is working on more than 30 adult stem cell research projects.

The future of stem cell research

Researchers are not just looking at adult stem cells found in bone marrow but in body fat.  Plastic surgeons in Austin are using cells from body fat in reconstructive procedures.

Researchers discovered the capabilities of adult stem cells in body fat about the year 2000.  Veterinarians shortly thereafter began using body fat stem cells from horses to repair the animals’ own tendon and ligament tears and joint problems.

“Using fat derived stem cells or fat derived regenerative cells has been commercialized in the vet world for going on eight years,” said MedRebels Scientist Dr. Ted Sand.

Researchers in Austin hope to duplicate the success vets have had with animals in humans.  Sand said bone marrow stem cells can degenerate with age, but research suggests the fat derived stem cells do not.  The chances for complications in therapy are lower in the stem cell collection from fat than from bone marrow.  There are also more adult stem cells per volume in body fat.

“There is a lot more regenerative cells in fat on a per volume basis than there is in bone marrow,” said Sand.  “We can get fewer cells or we can get more cells at one collection and that again pushes the therapeutic benefit.”

Dr. Johnson and other MedRebels look for a day when adult stem cells from bone marrow and body fat could be used to not just repair bones and tissue but life threatening diseases.

“I sort of feel like a little kid who wants to rush into the birthday party but is kind of holding back for the right moment,” said Dr. Johnson.  “I feel this is a dam that’s going to burst. I don’t know when. I think it’s sort of starting to trickle, but I think eventually this will be the standard of care.  I think most people around the country will be doing it.”

Other links:

Another Austin nonprofit advocating stem cell research –

Texans For Stem Cell Research

National Institutes of Health information on stem cells

  • The Great Debate Over Stem Cell Research (campbellzc.wordpress.com)
  • Stem Cell Bioengineering (earlsview.com)
  • Scientists find ‘better way’ to grow adult stem cells (biosingularity.com)
  • Court decision ends threat to US embryonic stem cell funding (newscientist.com)
  • New Way Of Growing Enough Adult Stem Cells For Therapeutic Use With Nanoscale Plastic (medicalnewstoday.com)
  • Researchers lose bid to block human embryonic stem cell research (arstechnica.com)
  • CELLING Treatment Centers New Clinic Revolutionizes Spinal Care with Adult Stem Cells (prweb.com)
  • A Step Closer to Personalized Medicine: Improving Gene Therapy To Treat a Devastating Genetic Disease (biosingularity.com)
  • Scientists find ‘better way’ to grow adult stem cells (via Biosingularity) (archon236.wordpress.com)
  • Federal Judge Throws Out Embryo Challenge (blogs.abcnews.com)
  • Global Investments in Adult Stem Cells Research to Reach US$2.4 Billion by 2015, According to a New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (prweb.com)
  • Regenerating Our Own Bodies: the Wonders of Adult Stem Cell Research! (erasetheneed.wordpress.com)