Health

Healing by regeneration

Local doctor helping people with stem cell surgeries

BY ANIKA RICHARDS
Associate editor — news
richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 25, 2017

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ONE year ago Sandrene Brown could not climb a flight of stairs without holding on to the rails for support. The simple act, which is routine for so many people, was just too painful.

However, she is now pain-free and can run up and down stairways to her liking.

In fact, like Brown, two other patients at St Ann's Bay Hospital might have similar stories to share after today. The two will be undergoing platelet-rich plasma procedures, one for shoulder impingement and the other for arthritis in both knees.

Orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital Dr Derrick McDowell told the Jamaica Observer that since he started doing stem cell surgeries early last year — which, along with platelet-rich plasma procedures, forms part of the facility's thrust towards regenerative surgical procedures — nearly 70 people have so far benefited.

“I am, more or less, the only person to do them locally and in the Caribbean,” Dr McDowell said of stem cell therapy.

“[This] is where we do procedures to help people to regenerate — to get back to the original quality and function.

“On Friday I will be doing what's called platelet-rich plasma procedure, which is separating it from the blood, but with the stem cells we get it from the bone marrow. So we get the stem cells from the bone marrow and put it to the [affected] area under image guidance and, of course, we ensure that it does what it's supposed to do,” he said.

The orthopaedic surgeon explained that since the bone transplant programme started at the hospital in 2013, adjunct to that was patients' healing, which led to regenerative surgical procedures.

“Heal by regeneration, so stem cell surgery was the next logical step in that progress,” he said. “So what I started to do is what's called autologous somatic stem cells treatment — so there are no ethical issues involved.”

Autologous means the cells are obtained from the same individual, so the donor and recipient are the same.

“So you basically go to the body reserves — the body has stem cells — and you isolate the stem cells and then you instil the stem cells under image guidance, such as ultrasound or X-rays,” Dr McDowell said.

The doctor told the Observer that stem cell therapy has been working well for people who have muscular problems as well as ligament, joint and nerve issues.

But how exactly does the procedure help these people?

He explained that if a wound was to heal by regeneration, there would be no scar.

“Cuts on your body with a scar… were healed by scar formation… So what you have there is skin, and that skin covers the area, but it doesn't have any sweat glands, no hair follicles; it doesn't look like normal skin,“ he explained.

“[With regeneration] basically what we are doing is forcing the tissue to heal by… regrowing its own native tissue,” he said.

Dr McDowell said further that if a patient has arthritis, where the cartilage is damaged, “we basically do a procedure to make the cartilage reform”.

“If you have nerves which have been damaged by trauma by chronic compression, like carpal tunnel syndrome and so on, we get the nerves to heal by growing back new nerves,” he continued. “And people who need joint replacement, for example, we can delay the operative surgery of doing joint replacement by giving them stem cells.”

For Brown, though she told the Observer she was hesitant to do the procedure when she was told she had early stage arthritis, she feels much better having done it.

“Honestly, I can climb stairs, run up stairs, run down stairs without any problem now,” Brown said yesterday. “I think it has done what it should've done; there is no relapse or anything like that.”

Having branched off into regenerative procedures through stem cell surgery, Dr McDowell said what this does for the bone transplant programme at St Ann's Bay Hospital is improve healing rates.

So what's next?

“Who knows? The sky is the limit,” Dr McDowell responded.

The orthopaedic surgeon told the Observer that the stem cell therapy at the regional hospital is being done through a partnership with Surgix Jamaica Ltd, which is responsible for the preparation of the stem cells.

Surgix CEO Winfield Boban said yesterday that his company is trying to make treatment opportunities accessible to all Jamaicans.

“Surgix provides the equipment and know-how in providing stem cell therapy across Jamaica and the Caribbean, but mostly Jamaica. Along with Dr McDowell, we provide equipment and the specialised staff and things like that, and all he does is now apply the stem cells,” Boban said.

“What we have done is to be able to make stem cell therapy as affordable and as accessible to the Jamaican community as possible, utilising innovators and pioneers such as Dr McDowell; we are getting the message across,” Boban added.

The CEO pointed out that athletes such as Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake, if they wanted to do stem cell surgery, would have to travel to Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or the United States, but his company has brought the equipment to the shores of Jamaica.

“We have been able to bring that science here and make it available not only for premier athletes to access it, but upcoming athletes too… so we trying to level the playing field and make it accessible to the wider Jamaican community,” he said.

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