Stem-cell treatment arrives in Kamloops

By on June 29, 2017
Photo courtesy of Kamloops This Week.

By: Jessica Wallace (Kamloops This Week)

Gail Walsh didn’t want to spend the rest of her days waiting.

The 72-year-old retired Peachland woman said she needed surgical procedures on both knees, hip, neck and back, but didn’t want to sit on the waiting list. Instead, she researched alternatives and learned about a doctor in Kelowna offering private stem-cell treatment.

The retired teacher’s aid committed $6,500 with the hopes of checking some items off her list of procedures.

“I thought, I can just see the rest of my days, waiting for surgery after surgery, then recuperating in between,” Walsh told KTW. “It just seemed to me it was worth the money to try.”

Helping people on wait lists is among reasons why a longtime Kamloops neurosurgeon recently began offering stem-cell treatment, despite the fact the procedure is not approved by Health Canada.

“The expense [of stem-cell treatment], it’ll never be offered in the public system, so Canada will be behind the rest of the world,” Dr. Richard Brownlee told KTW. “Lots of people will do medical tourism, they’ll go to Mexico or the States or Germany or whatever to get treatment that’s not available here. Wait lists are the other thing. People wait for a year to get a MRI, so if they don’t have to wait, they can come in and get one in less than a week or two.”

The Welcome Back Centre, a private pain-management clinic on Columbia Street, began offering stem-cell treatment three months ago.

Stem cells are prevalent in humans and can be extracted to help treat degenerative, inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, Brownlee said.

Under the right conditions, stem cells can adapt into other cells. Someone with arthritis may have stem cells injected into a joint to create new cartilage, while athletes may treat soft tissue after a muscle tear, he said.

Brownlee noted the medicine is evolving, even being used to slow down symptoms of — but not cure — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease.)

“Stem cells are what do the repairing,” Brownlee said. “So, if you’re putting a big number of those locally at the site of where the injury is, it just encourages healing.”

Controversy has surrounded embryonic stem-cell harvest from fetuses. Brownlee said it is both unethical and risky, being that young cells have the potential to change into anything, including cancer.

Much like organ transplant, there is also the risk of the body rejecting them. Brownlee’s office extracts stem cells from the adults who are receiving them.

“If you’re taking it directly from the person and processing it and putting it right back in, there’s no issues with it,” he said.

Brownlee said stem-cell treatment is ideal for people who either haven’t healed adequately or who have developed degenerative changes over time. Ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per treatment, it is often sought as a last resort.

The centre has treated about a half-dozen knees and hips and is expanding into other treatments.

“Nothing has 100 per cent effectiveness, but most of the conditions, about 85 per cent of people get benefit,” Brownlee said.

In offering the first treatment of its kind in the city, Brownlee is educating the public and keeping up with new developments. He just got back from a conference in Beverly Hills through the Cell Surgical Network and said he is looking at joining the group to gain access to data from more than 7,000 cases.

“It’s just new and different and it’s something that will probably never be offered through the public system,” he said.

As for Walsh, seven weeks after her first treatment, she said it’s too early to determine if the procedure was successful. Relief could take up to nine months.

“All I know is so far, there’s nothing harmful done,” she said.

Prime minister: ‘regenerative medicine the future’

Future of stem cells

While Dr. Richard Brownlee said stem-cell treatment will likely never be offered publicly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year announced $20 million in funding to the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine to help establish a stem-cell therapy development facility in Toronto.

“Regenerative medicine is the future and not only is it the future, it’s a branch of medicine that Canada and the province of Ontario are actually quite good at,” Trudeau was quoted at the time in a story in the Globe and Mail about the announcement.

“The medical advances and innovations happening right here in Toronto are world class.”

Common applications:

• Knees: partial to complete ligament tears, osteoarthritis, partial to complete meniscal tears, augmented ACL or PCL reconstruction;

• Shoulder: partial to complete rotator cuff tears, labral tears, osteoarthritis;

• Foot and ankle: tendon inflammation, osteoarthritis, patron to complete Achilles tendon tear;

• Elbow, wrist and hand: partial to complete ligament tears, epicondylitis, osteoarthritis;

• Spine: discogenic back pain, facet arthritis, degenerative disc disease;

• Hip: osteoarthritis, labral tears, articular cartilage injuries, avascular necrosis.

Did you know?

• Stem cells can be injected locally or delivered intravenously.

• Gordie Howe underwent stem-cell therapy after having a stroke and responded well. His family said it helped him walk again, improved his speech and helped him gain weight.

• Fat contains 100 to 1,000 times more stem cells than bone marrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *