Stem Cell Therapy for Osteoarthritis
Your joints allow you to move – whether that’s throwing a baseball or just taking a stroll in the park. In a healthy body, the bones move smoothly, gliding on a cushion of cartilage. Movement is easy and without pain. However, degenerative joint diseases can change that. While there are many such diseases that afflict people, osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most common, with 27 million Americans suffering from it.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints. In this condition, the cartilage that usually cushions the joints wears away. This allows bone to rub on bone, causing pain, swelling, and discomfort. Over time, the situation worsens and as bones break down, there is the chance that they will develop growths called spurs. There is also the chance that fragments of bone and pieces of cartilage will tear away and become lodged in the joint, causing additional pain and complications.
Osteoarthritis can affect anyone at any age, and it can technically develop within any joint in the body. However, it is most commonly seen in the hips, spine, knees, and hands, with the base of the thumb and the big toe being two prominently affected locations. It is also more common in those age 65 and older.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
In many cases, the symptoms of osteoarthritis start earlier than when they are first noticed and are shrugged off, or not noticed at all. However, as they increase in severity, they become unable to be ignored. The most common symptoms of OA include pain in the joint during and after movement, as well as tenderness around and within the joint.
Joints may also feel stiff first thing in the morning or after not using them for some time. As the condition continues to progress, joints may become less and less flexible, and patients may notice a grating or grinding sensation when bending the joint. Finally, bone spurs may begin to grow, and these will be felt as hard lumps around the joint.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
While osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing down and destruction of cartilage within the joint, the underlying reason for that erosion is not clearly understood. However, there are several risk factors that make someone more likely to develop OA over time. These include age and obesity, but also gender, as women are more likely to suffer from it than men.
Previous joint injuries often lead to OA in the future, and some occupations put individuals at greater risk for developing the disease, such as an occupation that involves repetitive stress on joints. Genetics also plays a role, and any existing bone malformities also make someone more likely to develop OA in the future.
What Are the Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis?
There are many different treatment options available that may help lessen the severity of osteoarthritis symptoms, but there is no way to reverse the damage once it has begun. Some of the most common treatments include the following:
- Weight Loss – Weight loss can help alleviate pressure and pain on joints, particularly the hips, spine, feet, and toes.
- Exercise – Low-impact exercise can help build muscle and manage pain from OA.
- Physical Therapy – Physical therapy can help patients learn new ways of moving to avoid aggravating joints, as well as to build muscle strength.
- Medications – Over the counter pain relievers can help manage the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis.
- Injections – Some medications can be injected into the joint to provide improved function and reduced pain.
- Surgery – In severe cases, surgery may be necessary, including joint replacements but also arthroscopy to clean out or repair damaged tissue.
In some cases, stem cell therapy may offer benefits for patients, as well.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are progenitor cells. They are the building blocks of the entire body. They can transform into any other type of cell, and they are also capable of healing and regenerating tissues throughout the body.
What Can Stem Cells Do for Patients?
Stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis promises to deliver new treatment options that go beyond what is possible with current treatment modalities. However, it should be noted that the FDA has not approved any form of stem cell treatment, so all such therapies available currently are experimental only.
Stem cells are being studied by organizations around the world for their use in treating osteoarthritis, as well as a host of other diseases and health conditions. Many of these tests are yielding some surprising results. For instance, in 2016, the Mayo Clinic conducted a trial at their campus in Jacksonville, Florida. The trial found that
“patients not only had a dramatic improvement in the knee that received the stem cells, but also in their other knee, which also had painful arthritis, but receive only a saline control injection. Each of the 25 patients enrolled in the study had two bad knees, but did not know which knee received the stem cells.”
The use of stem cells in treatment of osteoarthritis is among the most studied and wildly used stem cells application, especially in the knee, hip and shoulder disease. Other joints, including in the hands and feet and even TMJ, respond to stem cell treatment.
The Type of Stem Cells Used
Special attention should be paid to the type of stem cells used in the treatment. There are two types commonly utilized – autologous and allogeneic. Autologous cells are the patient’s own stem cells, harvested and then lab-grown, then injected back into the body. The problem with these cells is that they are low-energy and are not pluripotent. They also carry with them a great deal of damage sustained over time that may cause an immune system response.
Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are pluripotent and high-energy, meaning they easily transform into other types of cells for regeneration and healing. They also have no damage, as they are sourced from cord blood and tissue, and have no potential to create an immune system response.
Ultimately, stem cells show immense promise for helping those suffering from osteoarthritis. However, additional research is necessary, particularly with allogeneic stem cells.