Role of White Blood Cells in Blood- and Bone Marrow-Based Autologous Therapies

February 27, 2020


There has been significant debate over the role of white blood cells (WBCs) in autologous therapies, with several groups suggesting that WBCs are purely inflammatory. Misconceptions in the practice of biologic orthopedics result in the simplified principle that platelets deliver growth factors, WBCs cause inflammation, and the singular value of bone marrow is the stem cells. The aim of this review is to address these common misconceptions which will enable better development of future orthopedic medical devices. WBC behavior is adaptive in nature and, depending on their environment, WBCs can hinder or induce healing. Successful tissue repair occurs when platelets arrive at a wound site, degranulate, and release growth factors and cytokines which, in turn, recruit WBCs to the damaged tissue. Therefore, a key role of even pure platelet-rich plasma is to recruit WBCs to a wound. Bone marrow contains a complex mixture of vascular cells, white blood cells present at much greater concentrations than in blood, and a small number of progenitor cells and stem cells. The negative results observed for WBC-containing autologous therapies in vitro have not translated to human clinical studies. With an enhanced understanding of the complex WBC biology, the next generation of biologics will be more specific, likely resulting in improved effectiveness.