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Am Fam Physician. 2023;108(5):online

Clinical Question

Are adipose-derived stem cell injections effective in adults with moderate degenerative joint disease of the knee?

Bottom Line

After six months, adults with moderate degenerative joint disease of the knee who received stem cell injections were more likely to experience clinically meaningful improvements in pain and function than those who received saline injections. (Level of Evidence = 1b−)


The researchers from Korea enrolled adults with degenerative joint disease of the knee confirmed on radiography who had pain levels of at least 50 out of 100 on a visual analog scale and impaired function on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC). The authors reported that the minimum clinically important difference for these scores was 14 points and 9 points, respectively. They randomized patients (uncertain if the allocation was concealed) to receive ultrasound-guided injections of autologous adipose-derived stem cells (n = 131) or saline (n = 130) that were performed by a physician who was not part of the study. They cultured the stem cells for three weeks before injection (a practice currently not allowed in the United States). They evaluated changes in the visual analog scale and WOMAC only for the 252 patients who completed the six-month follow-up. After six months, both groups had clinically important improvements in pain, but the net difference (9.7 points) is less than the minimum clinically important difference. Similarly, both groups' function scores improved, but the net difference was only 5.4 points.

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POEMs (patient-oriented evidence that matters) are provided by Essential Evidence Plus, a point-of-care clinical decision support system published by Wiley-Blackwell. For more information, see Copyright Wiley-Blackwell. Used with permission.

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