Jason R. Williams, MD, a radiologist in Gulf Shores, Alabama, has developed a thriving sideline: injecting patients with their own stem cells in an attempt to repair damaged joints and muscles.
Dr. Williams told the Mobile [Alabama] Press-Register for an article published Sunday that he has changed his clinic’s name from Precision Imaging to Precision StemCell. The clinic does still do diagnostic and interventional radiology, and the stem-cell procedure is image-guided.
Dr. Williams told reporter Casandra Andrews that the results have surprised him:
I was expecting some improvement. They’ve got cartilage regrowth. It’s unbelievable to see those changes.
Dr. Williams uses liposuction to harvest fat cells. The cells are minimally processed, still in the same tube, to separate the stem cells, which are then injected into the exact area of the injury, using CT and MRI guidance. Dr. Williams uses a system from Medi-Khan, a company ultimately based in South Korea.
The article includes testimonials from two of Dr. Williams’ most high-profile patients, former University of Alabama football players Rolando McClain, a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, and Marquis Maze, a wide receiver preparing for the upcoming National Football League draft.
Athletes have been at the forefront of those experimenting with stem-cell treatment. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Oakland A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon have been the most prominent.
We’ll find out how Manning responds when football season starts later this year, but Colon, after missing much of the 2009 season and all of 2010 because of shoulder injuries, came back to pitch solidly for the New York Yankees last season. So far this year he has a 3-1 record and an excellent 2.63 earned run average.
In January, the Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer warning about stem-cell therapies. Stephanie Simek, PhD, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapies, cautioned: “There is a potential safety risk when you put cells in an area where they are not performing the same biological function as they were when in their original location in the body.”
Dr. Williams said his therapies meet FDA guidelines because the stem cells are collected from the patient’s own fat tissue and administered to the same patient during the same procedure. He said he spent about four years researching various stem-cell therapies. He settled on using fat cells because there seemed to be the fewest chances for complications.
Clinical trials of various stem-cell therapies are ongoing. Currently, stem cell injections are considered experimental and therefore are not covered by health insurance. His treatments cost about $15,000, Dr. Williams said.
He’s a true believer. “This is going to be the future of medicine,” he said.
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