Until very recently, surgery was the only effective arthritis treatment available for patients whose symptoms failed to respond to more conservative approaches. Yet, joint fusion limits mobility and joint replacement has a measurable shelf life, which means that the search for a “perfect” solution is still active. To this end, hand and wrist surgeons are evaluating the use of stem cells for new hope when it comes to both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What Research Shows
Adult stem cells, harvested most easily from adipose tissue, can be processed into a therapeutic injection. When delivered directly to the affected joint, studies show that the influx of stem cells can slow and even stop the degenerative progress of arthritis. Stem cells seem to possess anti-inflammatory properties that help alleviate arthritis symptoms. Damaged cartilage repairs itself, and active regrowth has been measured as well.
The results, gleaned primarily from animal studies, indicate a promising future for the treatment of arthritis. Some veterinary offices have started using stem cell injections on their canine patients and are reporting success.
As for stem cell use in humans, FDA approval remains a future goal. Some physicians offer stem cell treatment despite the lack of long-term studies in humans. In the meantime, a number of clinical trials are already in progress with more waiting in the wings, primarily outside of the United States. As our knowledge base about the impact stem cells could have on arthritis expands, it’s likely that treatment options will enjoy an expansion as well.