'Future of medicine' comes to Nelson

OFFERING HOPE: Robert  DeBoyer and his wife, Rhona, who together run Stem-Cell NZ,  offer experimental stem cell treatment.
OFFERING HOPE: Robert DeBoyer and his wife, Rhona, who together run Stem-Cell NZ, offer experimental stem cell treatment.

An experimental stem cell treatment for joint and tendon regeneration is being offered in Richmond.

Doctor Robert DeBoyer, is providing the treatment where a patient's own stem cells are used to treat disease or injury.

The treatment can be controversial as it is still largely experimental.

Dr DeBoyer, who runs Stem-Cell NZ with his wife, Rhona, has been offering the treatment in New Zealand for six months from the Lower Queen St medical centre in Richmond, and in Wellington.

He said it had about an 80 per cent efficacy rate and could provide relief for some patients that meant they did not need surgery.

The treatment involved extracting 30-60ml of blood from a patient and putting it through a "highly sophisticated" centrifuge.

Dr DeBoyer said a rich plasma, containing about 170,000 stem cells, was obtained. It was injected into the joints or tendons, where it helped replicate new cartilage and, over time, relieved symptoms.

He said the treatment had a 24-hour recovery time and most patients only needed one treatment. It cost about $1400.

So far he had used it on about 60 people in the Nelson region.

While the treatment was new in New Zealand, Dr DeBoyer said it was a reasonably standard therapy in the United States.

"Over here I suppose it is a bit left of centre. I'm sure the odd orthopaedic surgeon would raise his eyebrows. But it is a new treatment dimension and I think regenerative medicine . . . has to be the way that medicine is going to go in the future."

Dr DeBoyer trained in Britain, and said he became interested in joint and tendon function while working as a registrar at the Royal London Hospital Rheumatology Unit.

Nelson general practitioners spokesman Graham Loveridge said stem cell treatment was fairly unproven.

Dr Loveridge said stem cells had the potential to have great benefits in medicine but there had not been scientific clinical trials done on the treatment.

He said stem cell treatments similar to the one that Dr DeBoyer provided might well provide benefits to patients but he would want to see evidence of the benefits from properly conducted clinical trials before he referred patients.

"At present I haven't seen that kind of evidence."

Blenheim resident Ronald Bell, 86, said he had the treatment from Dr DeBoyer on his left knee before Christmas.

Prior to the treatment he was finding it difficult to walk and was in constant pain. Surgeons had told him he could not have surgery because of his general health.

The treatment was simple and only took about 30 minutes, and he went home soon after receiving it.

He only needed a local anaesthetic injection into his knee.

"Three days later all the pain had gone out of my knee and I was beginning to walk comfortably. I think it's absolutely marvellous, I really do. Anyone who's got knee trouble I would say go for it."

His mobility and pain levels were markedly better.

"I've had no pain from it whatsoever and I can actually kick a ball now with the leg which is something I couldn't do before."

Dr DeBoyer told him the treatment was experimental and that not many people had had it before in New Zealand.

The Nelson Mail