Many who are suffering from osteoarthritis make enquiries on the availability of stem cell therapy. We are hardly surprised because arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability that is prevalent globally.

Most are disappointed to know that currently there are no Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved treatments that exist for osteoarthritis (OA) that affects the knee. But there may well be significant changes in that domain soon.

Currently a number of clinical trials are in progress studying and investigating various methods of stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis in the knee. Clinicaltrials.gov actually lists sixteen such studies that have made some advancement in this area. Amongst the same, a particular research proposes reducing the pain and inflammation of the arthritic knees for at least six months by the usage of a single injection.

First published in the journal – ‘Stem Cells Translational Medicine’ it put forward a revolutionary idea of combating arthritic knees by extracting stem cells from a patient’s own body fat. Adipose derived stromal cells drawn out from the patient’s fat via liposuction are known to possess immune boosting and anti-scarring properties that have been highlighted in investigative studies conducted in the past.

The phase I study included a limited number of patients without a placebo arm; it showed that local injection of autologous adipose-derived stem cells was safe and well tolerated in patients with knee osteoarthritis. This study also provides encouraging preliminary evidence of efficacy. Larger and controlled long-term studies are now mandatory to confirm whether this new strategy of cell therapy can improve pain and induce structural benefit in osteoarthritis,” said Christian Jorgensen, of University Hospital of Montpellier, the director of the study in a news release.

With a relatively small number of patients in the age group ranging between 50 and 75 years, most of the participants were suffering for at least a year prior to the treatment from osteoarthritis affecting the knee.

The study began with dividing the participating patients into three groups and then giving them variable shots at a low quantity of the cells (23,000) administered straight into the knee, a medium amount (103,000) and a high dosage (503,000). These patients were then closely monitored over a period of six months for improvements in their condition and any visible or non-visible side effects.

While the goal of this small study was to evaluate the safety of using a patient’s own stem cells to treat osteoarthritis of the knee, it also showed that one group of patients experienced improvements in pain and function,” noted Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was not involved in the study.

However, one must be cautioned that the study in no way says that stem cell therapy here will stop the progressive condition of the disease. It also will not repair or restore the damaged cartilage.

Dr. Tony Atala, said the study offered the patients involved another benefit:

In fact, most of the patients (in the study group) who had previously scheduled total knee replacement surgery decided to cancel the surgery. It will be interesting to see if these improvements are seen in larger groups of study participants.”

The answer to that may very soon come to light as researchers in Europe have already commenced a trial for a two-year period involving 150 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

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