Find out how stem cells can contribute to the advancement of osteoarthritis treatment below.
In this article:
- What Is Osteoarthritis?
- What Are the Treatments for Osteoarthritis?
- Do Stem Cells Have the Potential for Treating OA?
- How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work to Treat OA?
- Can Stem Cells Be an Effective Cure for OA?
- Are Stem Cells for Osteoarthritis Treatment Safe?
Stem Cell Therapy for Osteoarthritis Treatment
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic joint condition. It happens when the cushion or cartilage between the joints starts to break down, leading to swelling, stiffness, and pain. It can affect any type of joint, but it usually occurs in the big toes, bases of the thumbs, small joints of the fingers, neck, lower back, hips, and knees. It does not have a specific cause, but several factors that can lead to this condition include genetics, injury, aging, and excess weight placing pressure on the joints.
What Are the Treatments for Osteoarthritis?
Typically, symptomatic relief from pain for OA can be achieved by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and weight reduction. Another osteoarthritis treatment is through surgical methods, but long-term effects are limited. In other words, osteoarthritis signs and symptoms may come back once the relief provided by treatments wear off.
Do Stem Cells Have the Potential for Treating OA?
Many clinics provide stem cell therapies, but using stem cells for osteoarthritis treatment is still under investigation. Researchers are still studying ways to best utilize stem cells and how useful they are in osteoarthritis medications before they can become a standard therapy.
Despite the aforementioned facts about stem cells, OA is commonly treated using a type of adult stem cells known as a mesenchymal stem cell (MSC). MSCs produce anti-inflammatory benefits that can help in healing the condition and reducing pain. MSCs can also reduce fibrosis (scarring) and positively impact a patient’s immune system. Because of these benefits, they offer great potential for treating OA.
Mesenchymal stem cells are commonly harvested from bone marrow or fat and then re-administered to the patient using local injections.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work to Treat OA?
Stem cells can be injected into the affected joints, so that they may aid in relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as loss of joint movement, inflammation, and pain. A newer area of stem cell research is its tissue engineering applications. With this approach, stem cells may be able to be cultured in a lab to create an artificial tissue that could be implanted into a injured or diseased patient. Theoretically, this approach could help to repair damaged cartilage, ligaments, or bone in a joint. However, it is more complex to grow three-dimensional tissues, so this research is still in its early-stages.
With outpatient stem cell procedures for OA pain that are conducted in the United States, stem cells are usually harvested from a patient’s fat (adipose) tissue or bone marrow and then re-administered back to the same patient on the same-day. This is necessary to comply with U.S. FDA guidelines. For procedures that are conducted in other countries, the cells may be able to be cultured (multiplied) in a lab prior to re-administration into a patient. In some cases, donor (allogeneic) cells may also be used, most commonly those derived from newborn “birth” tissues, such as umbilical cord blood or tissue or placental blood or fluid.
Can Stem Cells Be an Effective Cure for OA?
One important factor to note is that because patients respond differently, stem cell therapy may not work on all OA patients. Stem cells alone do not cure the condition. Patients so far only report that they experience improvements with the symptoms, especially pain. This means that further research is needed to know whether stem cells can completely treat OA and not just relieve it.
Are Stem Cells for Osteoarthritis Treatment Safe?
Thus far, using stem cells to treat OA appears to be relatively safe, because descriptions of serious adverse effects are not easily found online. As mentioned, most autologous (self-derived) mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) procedures collect the cells from fat or bone marrow and then use injections to treat the condition. Other treatments use allogeneic MSCs, or those from donors. However, there are potential risks for donor-based stem cell treatments, such as unwanted immune reaction (the body attacks the donor cells) and development of an infectious disease. If a patient has undergone an allogeneic MSC therapy for OA, it’s best to look out for signs of possible side effects.
One factor that significantly affects the therapy’s safety is the standards for the preparation of the treatment. The patient should make sure the clinic can assure a clean and sterile setup. Something as simple as cleanliness can affect the integrity of the procedure and makes a huge impact on the outcome.
There are now hundreds of stem cell physicians around the United States and worldwide that offer stem cell treatments for OA. Unfortunately, not all of these medical centers are in compliance with their local regulatory body, such as the U.S. FDA. Within the U.S., the FDA has issued numerous warning letters to medical clinics who offer stem cell treatments to patients without following FDA regulations.
However, many other physicians are complying with FDA law and treating large numbers of patients. Well known clinics offering stem cell treatments for OA include GIOSTAR, Regenexx, Okyanos, and others.
To learn more about stem cell therapy, check out this video:
Using stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis treatment is obviously a promising therapeutic alternative for the condition. There may be potential risks for the procedure, but momentum in this area appears to be growing. With continued research and trials, it wouldn’t be surprising for stem cells to become a standard treatment for osteoarthritis in the future.
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Do you agree that stem cells have a future with osteoarthritis treatment? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section.