Nomenclature Inconsistency and Selective Outcome Reporting Hinder Understanding of Stem Cell Therapy for the Knee

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Background:The prospect of treating knee cartilage injury/pathology with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) has garnered considerable attention in recent years, but study heterogeneity and a lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) preclude quantitative analysis. The purpose of this review was to provide clinicians with an overview of RCTs that addresses 2 key areas that have been largely overlooked: nomenclature inconsistency and selective outcome reporting.Methods:RCTs that purported to use stem cells or MSCs to treat knee cartilage were identified with use of PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses). Study variables were compiled, and methodological quality was assessed. The cell treatments and the methods used to characterize them were recorded and compared. Clinical, radiographic, and arthroscopic outcomes were extracted and evaluated qualitatively.Results:There was extensive variation among the treatments, adjuvant therapies, and outcome measures. Treatments did not coincide with terminology. Significant differences in clinical outcomes were reported infrequently, and intra-group improvements or inter-group subscore differences were consistently highlighted, particularly when inter-group comparisons were left unreported.Conclusions:Overall, there are isolated cases in which positive efficacy results have been published, but our results suggest that the generally positive efficacy conclusions concerning stem cell therapy for knee cartilage pathology may be overstated. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the efficacy of stem cell therapies should not be considered in aggregate. Cells that are procured or processed differently produce entirely different drugs. When evaluating the efficacy of “stem cell” therapies, clinicians must consider the methodological quality, nomenclature, and inherent distinctness of each treatment.

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