SAN ANTONIO - People in need of healing can now use their own cells as medicine and don't even have to leave San Antonio to get help.
The treatment is possible because of a state law that passed in September. House Bill 810 was the first law of its kind in the nation.
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It’s been a long wait for Dr. Wendy Askew, not only to perform the newly legal stem cell therapy but also to receive it.
"I have an autoimmune condition called psoriasis and (it's) really bad. I have 80 percent involvement on my body. So when it was at its worst, like a lizard, I had plaques covering my arms, my legs, my back," Askew said.
Askew spoke in past tense because an outbreak that severe hasn't happened since her first stem cell treatment in October, one month after HB 810 passed.
"In 18 years, I have not been able to go without treatment this long," she said.
The treatment can be used for anything from arthritis to multiple sclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The new law allows physicians like Askew and Dr. Tamyra Rogers to liposuction fat from a patient and pull stem cells out of it. They both perform the procedure at the Dr. Rogers Centers in San Antonio.
"We can get so many from fat, up to millions and millions of stem cells. Once we centrifuge the fat, it basically spins, and this is where the incubation takes place," Rogers said.
The stem cells are filtered out, washed and then injected back into the patient. The cells can be infused that day or patients can bank them and infuse them later in Texas.
The whole process is overseen by the Institutional Review Board, or IRB. It's a national committee that, in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration, ensures research methods are safe and ethical.
"We’re basically trying to hone our technique so that we’re all doing it the same," Rogers said.
For example, part of the protocol says the stem cells should not come in contact with air, so they’ve created tools that connect to each other, specifically for this procedure.
The requirements also include things like how to address patients when explaining the procedure. Doctors cannot call the therapy a cure. Rogers said she tells patients the procedure is investigational, yet she shows them current data so patients are well-informed.
It's an intricate process that is improving daily as more data is collected and studied.
"There’s real hope and real value in the healing power of your own stem cells, something that can be done safely and that has a lot of promise," Askew said.
"As a physician, to feel like you could actually make it better without having to use drugs and the patients have side effects — it’s just their own body — for us, it’s really incredible that we can do it," Rogers said.
Now that it’s legal in Texas, Rogers is bringing in specialists such as neurologists, Ob-Gyns and ophthalmologists so they can learn the stem cell therapy and perform it in their areas of expertise.
Insurance does not cover the therapy because it's deemed experimental or investigative. The cost starts around $6,000 per treatment.
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