Though there is still much to learn about the therapeutic effects of stem cell therapy, stem cell research has come a long way in the past few decades. Through a multitude of studies for a variety of conditions, researchers have made many important discoveries regarding stem cells and their mechanisms of action. One condition for which there have been multiple stem cell studies is arthritis. And the results are promising! But before we dive into the use of stem cells to treat arthritis, we must first understand how arthritis affects our joints.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis: it’s a word we’ve all heard and a diagnosis many of us will face at some point in our lives. Arthritis is a broad term to describe conditions that affect the joint and/or tissues around the joint. There are many types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 32.5 million adults in the United States, and most of the stem cell studies for arthritis are for osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by a breakdown in joint cartilage, which causes inflammation and changes to the surrounding bone. These changes typically develop slowly and get worse over time, often resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion in the affected joint.
How Stem Cells Combat Osteoarthritis
So how do stem cells work to fight the effects of osteoarthritis? Well, stem cells have multiple mechanisms of action that make them a potentially effective treatment option for OA. Stem cells have demonstrated the ability to differentiate into multiple tissue types, home to sites where there is tissue damage (i.e., cartilage tissue), reduce inflammation, reduce pain, regenerate tissue and blood vessels, modulate the immune system, and reduce cell death.
While many of us know that stem cells have the ability to differentiate into multiple cell/tissue types, including cartilage tissue and bone, this is just one of several functions of regenerative cells. Studies have demonstrated that stem cells support tissue healing and remodeling as well as a reduction in cell death.
Perhaps most important to those suffering the effects of osteoarthritis, is the ability of stem cells to reduce inflammation and pain. Stem cells have shown the ability to migrate to areas of inflammation and use cell signaling to shift pro-inflammatory environments to anti-inflammatory environments. In recent years, stem cells have also been shown to directly modulate pain by secreting pain blocking proteins that can have opioid-like effects. Pretty amazing, right?!
More Research is Necessary
Those of us who suffer from osteoarthritis may be thinking, “How do I sign up?!” But unfortunately, it is not that easy. Stem cell therapy is regulated by the FDA and more research is needed before stem cells receive FDA approval for specific indications. Our goal at Personalized Stem Cells is to conduct the necessary FDA approved clinical trials to move stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis towards FDA approval. Keep an eye on our website for future FDA approved clinical trials!