What is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic lung disease usually of unknown cause that causes fibrosis or scarring of the lungs. It usually starts in adulthood. The fibrosis or scarring makes it difficult for oxygen to enter the bloodstream in the lungs. This typically worsens over time. As the disease progresses, it can become more difficult to get air into the lungs. This is called a restrictive lung disease. Some medications are available that can slow disease progression. Nothing can cure or stop the disease. Lung transplant is often the only option for those with severe disease.
What Can Stem Cells Do for Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Stem cells from the patient’s own fat can be effective in improving pulmonary fibrosis symptoms. (See our blogs What are Stem Cells?and Understanding Adipose-Derived Stem Cells) Some patients have seen significant improvement in their measured lung function, but the number of patients measured so far is small. Stem cells from your own fat have a strong effect on the immune system. It is believed that disorders of the immune system are an underlying cause of pulmonary fibrosis. Fat stem cells may be able to correct these immune problems and improve symptoms. Over 80% of patients in the Cell Surgical database have seen improvement.
Stem cells from fat often have a powerful ability to modify and correct our immune system. Pulmonary fibrosis patients often see a rapid improvement due to this strong immune system modifying the effect. This effect can last for years so long term response is not unusual, but many patients seek treatment once or twice a year.
Where Do You Get the Stem Cells for Pulmonary Fibrosis?
We harvest the stem cells from your own fat using a special syringe system. We liposuction about 2-3 tablespoons of fat under local anesthesia. In our office, it takes about 2 hours to separate the stem cells from the surrounding fat. The cells are then given back to the patient both by IV and using a hand-held nebulizer. The process of harvesting, processing and delivering the cells takes about 3-4 hours. Patients leave with a bandage over the site where the fat is taken. Even very slender people typically have enough fat for the harvest process.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Stem Cells for Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Most pulmonary fibrosis patients are good candidates except those with a medical problem that would prevent them from having a stem cell procedure such as active cancer or infection. Persons on anti-coagulants (blood thinners) may need to stop or adjust them prior to stem cell therapy. Persons with both early and advanced pulmonary fibrosis are often candidates.
Costs of Stem Cell Treatments
The cost of the initial treatment ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. The range in cost is dependent on the complexity of delivering the cells back to you. For example, spine conditions require multiple physicians to deliver the cells back to your body and this requires an increase in cost as multiple doctors are involved in the procedure. For many people the initial treatment is all that is needed; however, for some conditions, subsequent treatments may be required and these are done at a reduced fee.
What Is the Recovery Like after Stem Cells for Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Very little recovery is required after fat stem cell therapy. Most people have some mild bruising and swelling at the site the fat is harvested. Swelling and bruising can last for 1-2 weeks. Most patients receive a minor pain reliever for post-op pain, but most do not require it. The process of giving back the cells may have some bruising at the IV site, but otherwise, no recovery is necessary for the IV or inhaler.