Stem cell therapy is when stem cells are injected into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury. Many medical scientists and clinicians believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to treat common human diseases and injuries alleviating pain and restoring function.
Stem cells are the building blocks from which all cells that make up an organism come from. Stem cells are “undifferentiated cells” that can differentiate into specialized cells (eg muscle, nerve, cartilage) or divide to produce replicas of themselves.
In the situation of arthritic disease there is progressive damage or loss of the hyaline cartilage lining the hip or knee joint. Stem cell therapy has the potential to replace lost hyaline cartilage by stem cells differentiating in to cartilage.
Stem cell treatment is a new technology. Apart from bone-marow transplantation for blood cancers the mechanism of stem cell action in arthritis both in producing hyaline cartilage and interaction with the arthritic environment leading to long term benefit is not well known and controversial. This is the focus of much International study.
Stem cells most likely act by multiple pathways in a “self tailored response” to the patients unique arthritic environment rather than just potentially replacing damaged cartilage.
One pathway of much interest is the ability of stem cells to decrease inflammation and swelling. Inflammation and swelling is a common first presentation for arthritis it causes pain and loss of function. This is why today those with arthritis are routinely prescriped antinflammatories or NSAIDs.
In orthopeadics mesenchymal stem cells are used. Mesenchymal stem cells are taken from the patients abdominal fat. Mesenchymal stem have already partially differentiated but can divide into a variety of cells which includes cartilage.
Fat (or adipose) mesenchymal cells are similar but not as active as the mesenchymal stem cells which are collected from umbilical cord blood at birth. The umbilical mesenchymal cells are stored incase the newborn baby develops blood cancer during its lifetime and requires a bone-marrow transplant . It is the increased activity of the umbilical stem cells that make them better for treating the blood cancer. As we grow older the adult mesenchymal stem cells become less active.