When Dr. Hooman Melamed first began researching Stem Cell Therapy as a treatment option in 2013, he wasn’t looking into it as a highly renowned spinal surgeon, but as a patient.
“I injured my knee and shoulder” recalls Dr. Melamed, “and I was basically looking for ways to postpone joint degeneration and avoid potential surgery.”
For nothing more than his own personal curiosity, Dr. Melamed began researching Stem Cells by attending conferences and meetings across the country. The more he learned, the more he felt this was something he wanted to pursue, but he still wasn’t in a rush to get the treatment done.
“At the time, there was no protocol on (Stem Cell Therapy), no standardization or regulation, everyone was kind of just doing it however they wanted, but I found someone who was doing it the way I wanted, so I went to him.”
In July of 2014, Dr. Melamed went ahead with the Stem Cell Therapy injection on his ailing knee and shoulder.
“I waited about 6 months, to see how I did and once I saw the incredible results on myself I thought ‘Wow, this is great, I want to start using this on my patients!’
“I was the Guinea Pig” he adds with a laugh, “and it worked out, my shoulder and knee are great.”
After years of research and education, as well as a successful Stem Cell procedure on himself, Dr. Melamed began incorporating Stem Cell Therapy into his practice in February 2015. Despite all the success, Dr. Melamed is still cautious and understands Stem Cells are a developing science.
“We are just at the very beginning of understanding what stem cells are. There are literally millions of signals and pathways that are happening and we don’t fully understand all of it, but what we are seeing is, in some people, it is healing the injured areas.”
Here is what we do know: Stem Cells are undifferentiated cells within the body that have not been assigned a specific function. They have the potential to become many different types of cells, whether that be heart cells, brain cells, muscle cells, etc. They essentially serve as a blank slate template that can be applied to any area of the body. Stem Cell Therapy is the process of extracting those cells and then injecting them into an injured or damaged area of the body, so that they may create new, healthy cells that will repair and maintain healthy tissues.
“What (Stem Cell Therapy) does is, it stops the degenerating process, the damage that is happening. Whatever is happening to the area, you’ve got to stop it from getting worse first, because if you don’t stop it, you’re not accomplishing anything. So you stop it from getting worse and then you start regenerating and healing the area, and we’re seeing it not just in spine surgery aspects but in people who have Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s…a variety of areas now, it’s unbelievable.”
In his practice, Dr. Melamed has had success using Stem Cell Therapy to treat annular tears, disc desiccation, disc bulges, disc tears, degenerative disc disease, discogenic low back pain as well as degenerative changes and loss of cartilage in joints such as the knees, hips, and shoulders.
The procedure itself is considered conservative, it is merely an injection similar to an epidural. The recovery time varies by patient, and though most can return to desk work the next day, Dr. Melamed recommends waiting at least three months before engaging in any contact sports or impact activities. Still, he stresses no one has an exact an answer on when a patient is healed and often refers to his own experience when giving a prognosis.
“For me personally, I waited about 4 months, I just felt I wanted to give this (enough) time to regenerate. Because these stem cells are very fragile, they can easily not work and die. You’re putting them in an environment that’s hostile to them and you want to minimize hostility, so I felt any impact activities could be bad for you. At 6 weeks you could probably start core and trunk stability, physical therapy, rehab activities and start to slowly build yourself back up after that, but you’ve got to get through the three months and then you graduate.”
If all goes well, like it did for Dr. Melamed, a patient may be able to use Stem Cell Therapy as an alternative to surgery, but Dr. Melamed is quick to point out that Stem Cell Therapy is not a one stop, fix-all for everything and will never completely replace surgery.
“(Stem Cell Therapy) doesn’t help if you have a big disc herniation or if you have a piece of bone spur that is putting pressure on the nerve, it’s not going to help that. It’s like if I come and pinch your arm, you can put all the stem cells you want in your arm, but until I remove the pinching, the pain isn’t going to stop. If you have structural abnormalities or the (injured) area is not right biomechanically, then Stem Cell Therapy is not going to help, you need surgery to make that right.”
In addition to its limitations, Dr. Melamed also acknowledges that Stem Cell Therapy is not a perfect science. When asked; What would you say to those that are skeptical of Stem Cell Therapy’s efficacy? He responds:
“I think it’s valid, because it doesn’t work on everybody and we don’t know why it doesn’t work on everybody but I would also say, and the way I looked at it was, I have nothing to lose (by doing Stem Cell Therapy), it can only help.”
As for discouraging stories that may be circulated he adds, “Reports out there of it causing cancer in people going outside the country, those people are doing other things, not just injecting (Stem Cells). They’re doing other things that they should not be doing. So far, we have not had any of those results in the United States. If you’re going to do Stem Cell, stick to the places that are doing a lot of them; there are centers all around the country now, stick to those centers and do not go outside the country where you have no idea what is going on.”
In the last 22 months, Dr. Melamed has continued to see success in the patients he has treated with Stem Cell Therapy. He even has a few patients who were told they needed a spinal fusion, underwent Stem Cell Therapy instead and have so far experienced a relief from their pain. It is cases like these, as well as his own personal experience, that have Dr. Melamed excited about the prospects of Stem Cell Therapy both now and in the future.
“We’ve just started to use (Stem Cell Therapy) but in the future it may be used for any number of things, even people who have heart attacks, or heart failure. We’ve already seen that Stem Cells can potentially regenerate the damaged area of the heart. We haven’t unlocked anywhere near its full potential.”
Dr. Hooman Melamed is a board-certified, orthopedic spine surgeon currently offering Stem Cell Therapy as a treatment option for the reversal of degenerative disc disease and other conditions. To learn more about Stem Cell Therapy with Dr. Melamed, click here.