Also known as degenerative joint disease, Osteoarthritis affects nearly 14 percent of adults aged 25 years and older and close to 37 percent of people 65 years and older. While age normally determines whether someone develops the debilitating condition, anyone is susceptible to it.
Because Osteoarthritis involves the general wearing out of the knee, its symptoms are painful. As the knee's cartilage—the cushioning between joints—begins to erode, the joint's bones rub together. Eventually the sliding and grinding causes swelling, stiffness, extreme pain and reduced mobility. At times, it can even cause bone spurs, which are a bony growths on top of a healthy bone.
As a comparison, think about what happens to a car if the oil isn't replaced. Oil, like cartilage, is the padding between gears. Without oil, metal gears grind against each other and eventually wear out. The car then breaks down. The same thing happens with bones.
However, unlike oil, which can easily be replaced, scientists have never been able to regrow and replace cartilage to treat Osteoarthritis. Unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis, which are treated with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, doctors usually focus on treating Osteoarthritis with various pain medications, exercise, intra-articular injections or, as a last resort, joint replacement. All of these options manage pain, but don't treat the main problem: the degeneration of cartilage.
That is, until now.
Numerous studies have indicated that stem cell treatment can be a viable and successful way to manage Osteoarthritis pain. It may also be able to regrow cartilage.
In one clinical trial of 32 participants, scientists found that 16 members of the treatment group who suffered from Osteoarthritis responded favorably to stem cells injected into their damaged knees. They felt less pain.
To conduct the study, researchers split participants into a treatment and placebo group. In all patients, doctors removed any scarring and necrotic tissue in the knee by endoscopic surgery. They then injected a mixture of stem cell-enriched fractions and platelet rich plasma into the knees of the treatment group. The results were remarkable. Compared to the control group, all participants in the treatment group showed reduced pain, a reduced Womac score, increased Lyshom and VAs scores. These tests help indicate mobility, range and pain when joints move.
Other studies, completed on animals, have also indicated that stem cells may be able to regenerate cartilage in humans. However, further testing needs to be done to determine whether stem cells could be a feasible approach to growing new knee cartilage.