Early in his training, Steven Sampson, D.O., became disenchanted with the standard of care that prioritized the treatment of symptoms with temporary fixes.
“We were masking the symptoms and not treating the disease itself,” said Dr. Sampson, founder of the Orthohealing Center, The Orthobiologic Institute (TOBI) and the Orthohealing Method. “In Santa Monica, California, at a sports orthopedic practice, I learned of a treatment being performed in Spain on professional soccer players using their own blood and cells to stimulate healing.”
He worked with a soccer player who had a non-surgical MCL injury, and had a very positive experience when employing the platelet-rich plasma injection treatment. This encouraged Dr. Sampson to dig deeper and research the science behind cell-based healing. When he injured his own knee in a surfing accident, the roles reversed and Dr. Sampson came to understand the process of healing as a patient receiving the treatment.
“I think being in the patient’s shoes is really important,” he said. “Really understanding what it’s like to be a patient, whether to be suffering with pain or a variety of other issues; to understand what it’s like on the other side helps me connect better with my patients.”
Thus began Dr. Sampson’s foray into regenerative medicine. “To me as an osteopathic physician, the light went on and the concept immediately appealed to me—using the body to naturally heal itself, integrating science and technology,” he said.
We talked with Dr. Sampson about his work and the evolution of and developments within the regenerative medicine industry.
How would you describe the state of regenerative medicine today? Where do you see the field five years from now?
Dr. Sampson: I think with the evolution and gradual acceptance of the cell therapies come inherent challenges. I think there are groups of doctors who see this as an opportunity to exploit vulnerable patients, and some bad players represent a minority of the pool of physicians. Then, you have other physicians who have sincere intentions but are not well informed on dos and don’ts and regulatory compliance. It’s our mission to help educate those physicians who want to responsibly perform these procedures and provide them with ethical guidelines in terms of regulatory compliance and optimal protocols and treatments.
We’re certainly seeing a trend in which more industry is funding clinical trials and product development that will lead to approval and more widespread accessibility to patients. I think we’re going to continue to see more industry recognizing the beneficial role of these orthobiologic therapies in the orthopedic space of musculoskeletal medicine.
Without a doubt, there’ll be more tools for physicians to help patients, because oftentimes, patients are in this gray zone, a tremendous void between invasive surgery or minimally invasive treatment by, for example, physical therapy or a cortisone injection. Patients are often told that they have to live with their condition or come back for a replacement when their joint pain becomes unbearable. We need more tools for these patients in the middle who are often presenting with arthritis at younger ages.
What therapies and research do you find to be of greatest interest today?
Dr. Sampson: To me, the area of research that has the greatest potential in terms of the wide pool of patients and the epidemic we’re seeing in clinics across the country is in arthritis, osteoarthritis, particularly of the knee, as well as spine. Traditionally, arthritis was seen as a condition that affects seniors. What we find is that our clinics are flooded with young individuals in their thirties. It’s becoming advanced, and we need better options for these patients. Spine also is a field where surgery should be considered as a last resort, and there’s a huge void in the middle in terms of minimally invasive options aside from cortisone, which often has a temporary effect. I think these two areas represent the biggest space for growth.
You’ve played a major role in growing this field by founding and growing TOBI. What drove you to start the symposium?
Dr. Sampson: TOBI was brought about by a sincere intention to connect those who were applying these forms of treatments, to gather together and share best practices in science and develop protocols. I felt like I was really alone or on an island, early on. This was about 13 years ago while practicing orthobiologics, and I wasn’t aware of many physicians in the U.S. or in the world who were using this concept of blood to treat injuries. I decided to put together a group and invite whomever was practicing these cell-based therapies with a genuine interest to get together and advance the field.
We had a small conference of 20 physicians at the Hotel Palomar in California, with doctors from Spain, the Philippines, Singapore, just a variety of physicians who came from all over. Early on, I had a lot of challenges in terms of getting speakers, and gave many of the lectures myself; many of my phone calls weren’t returned, as doctors weren’t familiar with this type of annual meeting.
However, it was successful, and we’ve continued to expand each year. Now we have a waitlist of premier faculty. It’s really a Who’s Who meeting that grew out of sincere interest and intention to advance the field and have a very high-level, reputable meeting.
Heather Tunstall is an ORTHOWORLD Contributing Editor.