Stem Cell Treatment for Arthritis

Autologous transplantation of adult stem cells improves osteoarthritis of the knee.

El Pais, Madrid May 22, 2013      Artículo sobre un nuevo uso de células madre en español

Little by little, stem cell technology’s role in clinical medicine is increasing.  Although researchers have yet to see the spectacular results they are hoping for, such as regeneration of heart tissue or treatment for Parkinson’s, there is proof of the future potential for this technique.  A Spanish team has presented a paper due to appear in the next issue of the American Transplant Association journal Transplantation, describing the use of autologous transplantation of mesenchymal (adult) stem cells in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.  In eleven of twelve patients studied, MRIs revealed a significant improvement in articular cartilage quality, and patients reported a decrease in pain and greater mobility of the joint.

This experiment was done by a group of researchers from the Cellular Therapy Network of the Carlos III Health Institute, part of the Institute for Biology and Molecular Genetics (of the University of Valladolid and National Research Council), and the Teknon Medical Center of Barcelona.  The team used the simplest type of autologous treatment, in which stem cells are removed from the patient’s own fatty tissue and, after processing, are re-injected into the knee.  Use of the patient’s own cells would eliminate the risk of rejection.  Current methods treat symptoms, but do not generate healthy cartilage, so this new therapy represents a step forward in osteoarthritis treatment.

Arthritis, or degeneration of the cartilage, is the most common rheumatological disease.  According to a study by the Spanish Rheumatological Society (ArtRoCad1), arthritis of the knee affects about 10% of the nation’s population, and arthritis of the hip about 4% (of a total of over  5 million Spaniards) at a cost of almost 5 billion dollars a year, according to the Carlos III Institute.

This is one of only a few applications of stem cell technology available in a clinical treatment so far, as announced recently by congressman Rafael Matesanz, director of the National Transplantation Organization.  Mr. Matesanz advises arthritis patients not to seek treatments abroad in the so-called stem cell tourism trade.

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