Stem Cell Therapy for Cartilage Repair

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The excitement surrounding research on stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis centers on the possibility of stem cell therapy replacing joint replacement as  primary care for diseased joint. 1

In recent research doctors note that since joint cartilage possesses only a weak capacity for repair, its regeneration potential is considered one of the most important challenges facing doctors. Techniques such as drilling of bone (marrow stimulation techniques), Osteochondral transplantation and autologous chondrocyte implantationresults have shown limited results.

In the search for alternatives, scientists have found mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) may be the answer.

New research suggests that not only can stem cell treatments restore damaged cartilage, but can also act as a protector against future deterioration of the knee joint.

Recently, doctors in Iran followed 17 patients who had stem cell therapy for either knee, hip, or ankle osteoarthritis. It is important to note that the patients only received one stem cell injection.

After 30 months follow up all patients exhibited therapeutic benefits such as increased walking distance and decreased pain.

What makes stem cells so promising and effective as in the study above is that they:
1, Can morph into cartilage cells
2. Have a homing mechanism that brings them to the site of damage
3. Since they come from the patient themselves, they are not rejected.

In other research, doctors sought to understand the concept of stem cell therapy’s potential in regenerating cartilage, specifically articular cartilage  the tough tissue that covers the ends of bones.

The typical method of repairing this injury is surgery. However articular cartilage lesions represent one of the major unsolved problems in the orthopaedic surgery. 

Stem cell therapy for cartilage repair

“Osteoarthritis is a common disorder and the restoration of the diseased articular cartilage in patients with Osteoarthritis is still a challenge for researchers and clinicians. Currently, a variety of experimental strategies have investigated whether mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) instead of chondrocytes (injection of cartilage cells) can be used for the regeneration and maintenance of articular cartilage.

MSCs (Stem Cells) can modulate the immune response of individuals and positively influence the microenvironment of the stem cells already present in the diseased tissue. Through direct cell-cell interaction or the secretion of various factors, MSCs can initiate endogenous (grow from within) regenerative activities in the osteoarthritic joint.” 6

Mesenchymal stem cells are very special healing tools in that they have the ability to self-renew and differentiate between the types of cells “to treat age-related disorders that involve more than one tissue, such as degenerative joint diseases and arthritis.” 7

Stem Cell and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy Together

Usually the area of injury or arthritis is treated with a combined program of stem cells and platelet rich plasma (PRP). If stem cells are the seeds in the lawn, PRP is the fertilizer that helps the lawn grow. PRP, contains growth factors such as veg-f and tgf-beta which provides cell signals and nourishment to help the stem cells flourish and develop into new cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and other body parts.

Most cases of stem cell and PRP treatments are successful, and avoid the pain, disability, down time, and risk associated with major surgery. There is minimal recovery from a stem cell or PRP treatment, usually mediated by soreness in the area that was treated, and there is also a risk of bruising. There have been no reports of serious adverse effects in the scientific literature when adult mesenchymal stem cells are used in these procedures.

Afterwards, the patient is encouraged to use the joint normally, and follow up treatments of PRP are given in monthly intervals to continue to allow the stem cells to do their work. Since stem cell treatment is very safe, it can be repeated in the joint if necessary to obtain optimal results. Also, having treatment with stem cells would not make a person ineligible for surgery.