Osteoarthritis | Stem Cells Australia



Osteoarthritis is a condition where people experience pain and functional impairment in their joints.

Whilst historically described as a degenerative disease of ‘wear and tear’, it is now viewed as a more complicated joint disease. Various factors can lead someone to become predisposed to developing osteoarthritis, such as genetic traits, weight-bearing, injury and environmental factors like the job you perform. The management of osteoarthritis is typically aimed at reducing pain, improving joint mobility and slowing the progression of the disease. This typically includes measures such as exercise, weight loss, medication and occasionally surgery.

There is currently no credible evidence for any disease modifying therapy that stops the progression/reverses the effects of osteoarthritis.

sca cell images Osteoarthritis

How could stem cells help?

Understanding the disease

The cause of osteoarthritis is still being explored, with inflammatory and genetic components likely to play a significant role. Stem cells from patients with osteoarthritis can be used to help understand how different factors can predispose someone to osteoarthritis. Researchers are also investigating what exactly is causing inflammation in the joint.

Developing new drugs

Currently drugs used to treat osteoarthritis are mostly for pain management and to treat underlying conditions. There are no drugs that can stop the progress or reverse the progress of osteoarthritis.

Replacing lost cells

Stem cells have the potential to differentiate into different cells in the body. A type of cell important in cartilage structure and function are chondrocytes. These cells are important in secreting the protein matrix that make up the bulk of cartilage. Scientists hope that one day stem cells can be used to regenerate or replace cartilage in damaged joints, such as in osteoarthritis. It is also possible that cell therapy may result in a reduction of inflammation in the joint. However, cell therapies for this condition remain at the very early stages of evaluation.

While clinical trials are underway to test the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapy, we are not yet at a stage where stem cells can be routinely offered as therapy for osteoarthritis.

What are the challenges?

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that repair of knees and other joints is simply a matter of replacing or adding to existing cartilage with cells made from stem cells. Scientists have found it difficult to integrate lab grown cartilage reliably into joints, or to get stem cell or cells made from stem cells to ‘build’ new cartilage or repair damage in joints. While some early clinical trials have shown that certain approaches may be safe, there insufficient evidence to suggest the treatments are effective and a lack of evidence around the long term safety of proposed therapies.

Where can I find out more about clinical trials?

There are a number of sites that list clinical trials, including the clinicaltrials.gov registry. Please note that the scientific justification for the intervention and the credentials of those offering the service may have NOT been fully evaluated by this registry. Your findings may include listings that are NOT legitimate clinical trials. Please consult with your medical specialist or general practitioner as they are best placed to advise you on whether you would be a good candidate for a trial given your circumstances.

Please note: Although some clinics may claim to already offer stem cell treatments for osteoarthritis, there are serious questions about the scientific rationale and the safety of many of these approaches. Currently, there are no proven, safe and effective stem cell treatments for this condition available in Australia, the EU, US or elsewhere.

Some of this material has been adapted from factsheets produced by EuroStemCell.org under a Creative Commons license.
Where else can I go to find out more?

Stem cell treatments

MSK Australia

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Stem cells and muscle, bone and joint health: hope, hype and reality

MSK Australia

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5 things you should know about stem cells

Australasian College of Sports and Exercise Physicians

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