Stem Cell Osteoarthritis Treatment: Are We There Yet?

Stem Cell Osteoarthritis Treatment: Can stem cell treatment replace knee surgery? Chronic pain in the hands, knees, hips or spine — that’s what osteoarthritis is all about. The most common form of arthritis, it also brings swelling and makes it harder to move the joints.

For some sufferers, walking down the stairs is excruciatingly difficult. Others have to take slow-release sleeping pills to blunt the pain’s edge and keep them from waking at night. The pain is caused by the bones rubbing together in the knees and other joints of arthritic people. Normally, the ends of bones in a joint are covered by cartilage, a slippery tissue that absorbs the shock of movement. But osteoarthritis destroys the cartilage in joints, causing bones rub together, and bringing pain. Over time, this rubbing can permanently damage the joint.

Around 630 million people worldwide — 15 percent of all the world’s people — suffer from osteoarthritis. Still, no cure yet exists for this condition that gradually worsens with time.

Meanwhile, stem cells — being the body’s “building blocks” that can develop into cells of the bones, blood, brain, cartilage and all body organs — offer the hope of being a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat incurable diseases like osteoarthritis.

And an experimental stem cell osteoarthritis treatment, in fact, does exist in the United States, although it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Authority.

The therapy entails harvesting bone marrow stem cells from a patient’s hip, concentrating the cells in a centrifuge and injecting them back into damaged joints, where they appear to transform into chondrocytes, the cells that go on to produce fresh cartilage.

stem cell osteoarthritis treatment

They also seem to amplify the body’s own natural repair efforts by accelerating healing, reducing inflammation, and preventing scarring and loss of function—at least according to the doctor who performs and promotes the procedure.

According to Dr. Christopher J. Centeno, rehab medicine specialist and medical director of Denver, Colorado-based Regenerative Sciences Inc, the results he sees from stem cell therapy are remarkable.

More than two-third of the osteoarthritis patients who have seen him in the past two years “have reported more than 50 percent relief and about 40 percent reported more than 75 percent relief one to two years afterward,” Dr. Centeno says.

The doctor claims that only eight percent of his knee patients went on to opt for a total knee replacement two years after receiving his stem cell injection.

Conventional osteoarthritis treatments can only aim to slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain and improve joint function. These include exercise, weight control, rest, pain relief—and surgery.

The biggest advantage stem cell injections seem to offer over more invasive arthritis remedies is a quicker, easier recovery, Dr. Centeno claims.

He says he conducts his procedure on an outpatient basis and most of his patients are up and moving within 24 hours. According to him, while most of his patients wear a brace for several weeks, they still can get around. Many are even able to do some gentle stationary cycling by the end of the first week.

He also claims that there are also fewer complications and virtually no risks. “Because the stem cells come from your own body, there’s little chance of infection or rejection,” he says.

More on Stem Cell Osteoarthritis after the jump.