The idea is experimental: Extract stem cells from a patient’s own body fat — cells known for their ability to differentiate and perform any number of regenerative functions — and inject them directly into the damaged knee joint.
“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.
“In fact, most of the patients who had previously scheduled total knee replacement surgery decided to cancel the surgery,” Atala noted.
“These results are encouraging, and it will be interesting to see if these improvements are seen in larger groups of study participants,” he added.
Atala is editor-in-chief of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, the journal that recently published the results of the 18-patient study.
The French and German researchers point out that osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal disease among adults, a so-called “wear-and-tear” chronic condition that often affects the knee joint.
Typified by the ongoing breakdown of the cartilage that connect joints and bones, the progressively degenerative disorder ultimately gives rise to severe inflammation, significant pain and often crippling disability.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis risk is driven by genetics; obesity; injury and joint overuse; other forms of arthritis; and metabolic disorders that can throw a person’s iron or growth hormone levels out of whack.
No treatment can halt osteoarthritis’ progress, and “no therapy is able to restore [damaged] cartilage tissue,” noted study author Dr. Christian Jorgensen, head of the clinical unit for osteoarticular diseases at Lapeyronie University Hospital, in Montpellier, France.
To explore the potential of stem cell therapy, the study authors focused on 18 French and German men and women, aged 50 to 75, all of whom had struggled with severe knee osteoarthritis for at least a year before joining the study.