Right now, the above title is not a reality; however, in the not too distant future it may. About one month ago, I underwent a complicated surgery on my knee, and I can tell you that ever since the injury, I have been dreaming about how much easier life would be if our cord blood and cord tissue stem cells could be used to regenerate damaged ligaments and cartilage.
After suffering this knee injury playing basketball, I waited for 35 days before seeing a doctor because I hoped that the knee would heal on its own. When my limp and pain did not subside, I finally went to an orthopedic doctor for his diagnosis. The result of that initial meeting was the insertion of needle to drain excess fluid and a prescription for an MRI. The next day, I had an MRI performed which showed a bucket handle tear in my meniscus cartilage and a chronic, complete tear of my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). When I took the report back to the doctor, the prognosis was not what I was hoping to hear. He recommended surgery to remove the meniscus and to reconstruct the ACL. The resulting post therapy rehabilitation would be six months or more.
Dreamin' of stem cells
To say I was disappointed was an understatement. My thoughts turned to an alternative approach – using stem cells to rehabilitate the damage. Could the mesenchymal stem cells found within cord tissue do the trick? Recently, a study conducted at Columbia University, as published in the April 28 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). successfully grew human cartilage cells from adult stem cells from fat tissue. Combined with the cord tissue cells, perhaps an additional injection of hematopoietic cord blood stem cells would promote healing through the release of trophic factors that would stimulate my own body to repair the damage on its own.
“We’ve been able—for the first time—to generate fully functional human cartilage from mesenchymal stem cells by mimicking in vitro the developmental process of mesenchymal condensation,” says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, who led the study and is the Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia Engineering and professor of medical sciences. “This could have clinical impact, as this cartilage can be used to repair a cartilage defect, or in combination with bone in a composite graft grown in lab for more complex tissue reconstruction.”
Unfortunately, as promising as this recent study at Columbia University and other studies are, I knew that the use of cord tissue stem cells was still several years away from clinical use. If it was ten years from now, maybe I could use cord blood and cord tissue stem cells to heal my knee, but now my only choice was surgery. Therefore, if I had to go under the knife, I wanted to make sure that my knee was operated on by the most skillful and experienced surgeon possible. When I inquired with my initial orthopedic physician on his experience and track record, I was not convinced that he was the man for the job.
The conventional method
Further research led me to an orthopedic sports physician, who also happens to be the team doctor for the Miami Heat, Harlan Selesnick. We met only a few days (as soon as the Miami Heat returned home from an away playoff game) after my MRI report was prepared, and he delivered a similar prognosis as to the need for surgery. When I mentioned my role as the Chairman of the Board and Co-CEO of Cryo-Cell, the world’s first cord blood bank, and the possibility of using cord tissue stem cells rather than surgery, he smiled and said that maybe the day will come when that is the case. However, my only choice today was surgery. Given his extensive experience, knowledge, demeanor, and the fact that he was taking care of some of the world’s best athletes, I agreed to undertake the surgery. Specifically, he would reconstruct my ACL with a piece of ligament from a cadaver - not a great thought given the risk, albeit small, of the transmission of a not so pleasant disease. (Again, I dreamed about how the next generation may not have to take such a risk if their parents store their cord blood and cord tissue at Cryo-Cell.) As for my meniscus, Dr. Selesnick said he had about a 5% chance of being able to repair it, given the damage, the amount of time since the date of injury and my not exactly youthful age, and that more likely, he would have to remove it. The surgery was scheduled to take place the following week.
Stay tuned for more on the surgery and its after effects…