A retired Tauranga doctor will be the first person in New Zealand to undergo a controversial stem-cell treatment that is not funded by the Government.
Dr Ron Lopert says he will be the first Kiwi candidate to receive expanded stem-cell treatment rather than a hip replacement.
He will undergo the treatment on October 15.
"I'm delighted to be a pioneer for New Zealand," he said.
The 61-year-old retired in 2005, after 31 years of general practice, but continued to lead a healthy and active lifestyle - so active that his hip joints reached something he called "their use-by date".
In 2013 an x-ray confirmed pain he had started to feel in both hips was moderate osteoarthritis.
"As soon as I had that fairly confronting evidence, I stopped playing tennis, stopped playing squash, stopped long-distance running and started doing my research," he said.
Dr Lopert said the controversial treatment could allow him to regenerate new cartilage cells in both hips and allow him to get active again.
He contacted Queenstown Regenerative Medicine Clinic which told him he was a good candidate for the alternative treatment.
"I'm fully informed, fully consented already so I know the situation. I would much prefer the option of what they call 'regenerative medicine', where I regenerate my own native cartilage. It's a much more natural process and is much less invasive."
The most commonly practised stem-cell treatment in New Zealand is a funded procedure where stems cells are extracted from body fat and treated before being injected into the problem area all in one procedure.
Dr Lopert said the expanded stem-cell alternative would give him a higher chance of regenerating the cells he needed.
He said propagating stem cells and getting them up to high numbers had a different effect and could be more beneficial in terms of regenerating cartilage tissue.
However, the procedure would not help everyone with osteoarthritis.
Those who had already lost most of their cartilage were not suitable for the procedure, he said.
Expanded stem-cell treatment would not receive Government and insurance subsidies as it was generally regarded as untested, unproven with no guarantee of success, he added.
He hoped that once treatment was trialled enough to "prove" its effectiveness, Government subsidies would help establish the treatment in New Zealand.
"In my opinion I think it will become the go-to treatment for osteoarthritis, which is very common.
"There will always be a place for joint surgery where somebody isn't a good candidate for stem-cell treatment.
"But I think ... surgeons will feel a little bit threatened by the growing popularity of stem-cell treatment."
Marcelle Nobel, general manager and part owner of Queenstown Regenerative Medicine Clinic confirmed Mr Lopert would be the first in the country to receive expanded stem-cell treatment.
"We don't do anything unless it's underpinned by scientific studies, so we have a science base behind what we do," she said.
Although the procedure was not Government-funded, the Government's approval meant the clinic could trial the procedure specifically for osteoarthritis, Mrs Nobel said.
She said New Zealand was "well-placed" to carry out stem-cell research.
However, the opportunities to learn more were reflected by the amount of money donated to universities such as Otago University which dedicated studies specifically to stem-cell research.
"We are right up there. New Zealand certainly isn't backwards for stem-cell research, that's for sure," Mrs Nobel said.
* Clarification and correction
The sub-headline and first sentence of an article on Dr Ron Lopert published on October 3 should have made clear the treatment referred to was Expanded Stem Cell Treatment which is a type of Autologous Derived Stem Cell Treatment that has already been available privately and non funded in New Zealand for five years.