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Open Access Research article

Stem cell therapy for the treatment of early stage avascular necrosis of the femoral head: a systematic review

Rick L Lau1, Anthony V Perruccio2, Heather MK Evans2, Safiyyah R Mahomed2, Nizar N Mahomed2 and Rajiv Gandhi2*

Author Affiliations

1 Nickle 3, Kingston General Hospital, 76 Stuart Street, Kingston, ON K7L 2 V7, Canada

2 Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Toronto Western Hospital, 399 Bathurst Street EW 1-427, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2S8, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2014, 15:156  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-156

Published: 16 May 2014



Avascular necrosis (AVN) of the femoral head (FH) is believed to be caused by a multitude of etiologic factors and is associated with significant morbidity in younger populations. Eventually, the disease progresses and results in FH collapse. Thus, a focus on early disease management aimed at joint preservation by preventing or delaying progression is key. The use of stem cells (SC) for the treatment of AVN of the FH has been proposed. We undertook a systematic review of the medical literature examining the use of SC for the treatment of early stage (precollapse) AVN of the FH, in both pre-clinical and clinical studies.


Data collected included: Pre-clinical studies – model of AVN, variety and dosage of SC, histologic and imaging analyses. Clinical studies – study design, classification and etiology of AVN, SC dosage and treatment protocol, incidence of disease progression, patient reported outcomes, volume of necrotic lesion and hip survivorship.


In pre-clinical studies, the use of SC uniformly demonstrated improvements in osteogenesis and angiogenesis, yet source of implanted SC was variable. In clinical studies, groups treated with SC showed significant improvements in patient reported outcomes; however hip survivorship was not affected. Discrepancies regarding dose of SC, AVN etiology and disease severity were present.


Routine use of this treatment method will first require further research into dose and quality optimization as well as confirmed improvements in hip survivorship.

Avascular necrosis; Femoral head; Stem cells; Treatment; Precollapse