PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Treating injury without pain relievers like opioids is something that's already happening, and it's happening in Arizona.
Doctors using a local stem cell based product are helping patients recover faster, sometimes without surgery. Injuries and pain that took months for recovery now take only weeks or days.
"Some people call it the miracle of our generation, I believe it is," said Dr. Richard Jacoby, a foot and ankle specialist at the Extremity Health Centers in Scottsdale. "What we have here today is a young girl who has chronic and recurring Plantar Fasciitis."
Surgery, drugs and non-invasive therapies have been part of Jacoby's toolbox for years. Now, he has something new. Dr. Jacoby is giving his patient an injection of regenerative fluid that is derived from human stem cells.
"Technically this is not a stem cell injections it recruits like a magnet for your own stem cells
"This particular product is a Axolotl Biologix product," said Dr. Jacoby.
"The axolotl is a Mexican Salamander. It's a bit of a mascot for us," said Rob S. Kellar, Ph.D., the Chief Science Officer Axolotl Biologix. They make stem cell derived regenerative fluids in a facility in North Phoenix. It's the the same product Dr. Jacoby and many other doctors around the country are using to treat their patients.
"In science, the Mexican Salamander out of the Mexico City area is known for its regenerative potential," said Kellar. "It can grow entire limbs back. It can regenerate its spinal chord."
Axolotl Biologix don't have anything that can help a human regrow limbs yet, but they do make products that sound like science fiction.
"They are used to repair or regeneration of tissues," said Kellar.
The subject of stem cells has always been controversial. Political outrage followed the early use of embryonic stem cells, or stem cells from an unborn baby.
"If you are going to be harvesting embryonic stem cells or embryonic tissue, usually that's going to compromise of the developing embryo," said Kellar.
That is not, however, what Axolotl Biologix does. Instead, it takes donated placental tissue, the afterbirth that most hospitals throw away.
"In our process, the baby and the mother are celebrating, and the tissue we receive is actually placenta," said Kellar.
Inside a lab, workers process amniotic stem cells from donated placental tissue after C-Sections only, because it's a sterile procedure. It has FDA approval.
"That womb environment, or the in-utero environment, is one of the most regenerative environments we know," said Kellar.
It's screened and processed in a clean room, then placed in small vials that can be shipped out to doctors at room temperature.
"It's a stem cell-based product, meaning it was developed using stem cells in the beginning, but there aren't any stem cells in the final product." said Kellar.
Dr. Jacoby says the fluid has amazing regenerative and healing powers.
"Achille's, tendonitis, fractures, fractures that won't heal," said Dr. Jacoby. "Cartlidge, knee pain, marked improvement in knee pain."
Patients also chimed in.
"Initially, I went to a Mexican hospital. They did an X-Ray and put me in a cast and said no big deal, it will heal. It didn't heal," said Michael Tucevich. The Scottsdale man tore two ligaments on the top of his foot playing tennis. Surgery and stem cell-derived products helped him get back on the court faster.
"I don't know about the mechanics or the specifics. All I know is that it works," said Tucevich.
"I was diagnosed 15, 20 years ago that I had peripheral neuropathy," said Robert Kimm. THe Phoenix man has severe pain in his feet and hands, and drugs didn't work.
"Lyrica spaced me out so badly, they thought I had a stroke," said Kimm.
For the first time in years, he's getting relief from regenerative fluid injections.
"I would go for another stem cell shot in a minute," said Kimm.
"These stem cell-like products are on the cutting edge of what we would like to accomplish, to get rid of pain," said Dr. Jacoby.
With an opioid crisis still gripping America, treating the source of the pain instead of masking it with drugs may be the answer.
"We have this opioid epidemic, and these poor patients are on opioid and other medications, they lose their balance, they fall, they can't sleep, so this is a great alternative," said Dr. Jacoby.
"That's the end game: how do we give patients better quality of life?" said Kellar. "More options, so they can make decisions about what's good for them and good for their lifestyle."
"Now that secret has been unlocked, and these new companies are coming on board, and we'll be able to live to 130 years within our generation," said Dr. Jacoby. "Now, we got to solve the wrinkle problem first. It's going to look pretty bad out there, but it will work."
The cost for a stem cell derived treatment can vary on the doctor one chooses, but it averages about $3,000 to $4,000 per injection. The cost is not covered by insurance, as the treatment is still considered "experimental".