Progressive wear of the articular cartilage in the knee from age related changes resulting in pain, stiffness, and immobility is commonly known as osteoarthritis. Traditional treatments have included medications, corticosteroid injections, and surgery for some.
Regenerative medicine involving the use of stem cells has become one of the hottest topics in orthopedics. Stem cells are cells from within the body that can differentiate (become specialized cells) to produce more stem cells. These cells can be used to repair diseased or injured tissues within the body. One of the areas being studied involves the use of stem cells to treat knee pain.
In a recently published study from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in January 2014 (Vangsness CT) reported on the results of a randomized, double-blind study in which patients were treated with mesenchymal stem cells for meniscal tears. Patients who received the stem cells had significantly less pain following treatment than those in the comparison group who were given an injection of sodium hyaluronate into the knee. At one year after treatment, those who were given stem cells also had a notable increase in the amount of meniscus tissue present. No adverse events were seen.
Stem cells from umbilical cord blood are mixed with hyaluronate in the product named CARTISTEM to arthroscopically treat localized arthritic defects in the knee. This is currently under a medical trial being performed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Other procedures involving the use of a patient’s own stem cells combined with platelets are also being used to treat painful joint conditions. In this case, the PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) helps trigger new stem cell development which can develop into new tendons, cartilage, and bone.
There is a great deal of research taking place regarding the use of mesenchymal stem cells for knee joint restoration. Stem cells can be given through both surgical implantation and injections. There is no risk of rejection as the cells are derived from the patient’s own body.
Currently this therapy is in the relatively early stages of development. The results of treatment have been encouraging so far, but there are still many unknowns about this of treatment. This is something to keep an eye on in the future.