Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis

Stem cells are found all throughout the body.

What makes stem cells special is that stem cells can

  • multiply themselves by dividing and replicating their own cells
  • develop and specialize into other types of cells (it’s like a neutral / starter cell that can change into other cells which is required by the body)

So what specialists and researchers delving into stem cells are hypothesizing is that stem cells can potentially transform into any cells to accommodate what the body needs.

This is seems like nothing but if you consider the potential of putting stem cells into damaged nerve cells in a person who cant work, and it may result in them regenerating nerve cells to walk again – it’s a really big crazy potential.

Are stem cells being used now?

Currently, stem cells can be optionally applied during joint surgery; for example in the surgical repair of

  • knee ligament
  • elbow cartilage
  • finger joint

or delivered directly via injection into an arthritic joint.

For injections, many physicians may use medical imaging such as ultrasound to inject more precisely (this is called ultrasound-guided injection).

Where can we get stem cells?

We can extra mesenchymal stem cells from our

  • blood
  • bone marrow and/or
  • fat tissue

These mesenchymal cells have potential to treat arthritis and arthritic-related conditions. There is a method to collect these cells, and these extraction methods are called harvesting:

  • Stem cells from fat tissue are typically harvested during surgery or liposuction
  • Blood stem cells are harvested by taking blood and blood samples from patients
  • Bone marrow stem cells are harvested from patient’s bones (this can be painful as marrow is taken from patient pelvic bone using needle and syringe).

If I have arthritis, can I get stem cell treatment?

Unfortunately, there is no professional medical guidelines for who can or cannot receive stem cell treatments. For now, the decision and opportunity is up to

  • doctors providing the option
  • patient selecting the option

That being said, there are a number of patients with severe arthritis who have benefited from stem cell therapy for their arthritic joints – research are showing that younger patients who suffer from

  1. mild osteoarthritis (OA)
  2. cartilage or meniscus damage seems to benefits the most.

Some doctors have specific criteria to meet before recommending stem cell therapy. For example, maybe to specific age range and severity of conditions.

The most important question: is stem cell therapy safe?

Safety and clinical outcomes are both very important factors, of course we want it to be safe for patients (and ourselves):

Safety

Stem cell therapy at the basic level is considered safe because the stem cells are harvested from your own body, and because of this, there is very little risk of rejection and allergic reactions.

The most common side effects are mainly short term

  • swelling
  • pain

Applied to arthritis, stem cell treatment have the same risks as any other procedures, but there are specific scenarios where risks can be increased such as:

  • if a different type of stem cell is used eg x cell instead of y cells
  • during culture in labs as stem cells grow into healthy cell
  • if the stem cells are required to be mixed with other chemicals

There are some individuals who think that stem cells may risk the development of tumors and cancer (due to the nature of stem cells leading to growth). Research is still ongoing so it’s hard to say it’s certain or conclusive for now.

Is stem cell therapy effective?

In nutshell: research are showing conflicting results, and this has led to stem cells being a controversial topic in the medical community, at least for now.

Anecdotally though, I personally know individuals whom I have known for years, and they had a sudden “age reversal” that was very, very obvious to me. I know what I saw.

How researchers think stem cell therapy works

Stem cell scientists are theorizing that stem cells will transform to whatever cells is required by the body, an example is when injected into an arthritic joint, the injected stem cells will:

  1. develop naturally into the cells needed by the body; in this situation, triggered to become joint cells such as cartilage and related cells
  2. and this development may not trigger a lot of inflammation
  3. lastly, releasing proteins that will help to slow down cartilage degeneration and may even decrease pain

Factors that affect stem cell therapy research

One of the major hurdles of stem cell research is that there are just so many variations and outcomes in stem cell therapy treatment. This means that stem cell treatment today may not be the same or have similar outcomes with other stem cell treatments.

Differences can happen at/where:

  1. stem cells are harvested from which part and from whom and for whom
  2. how the harvested stem cells are separated from the rest of the harvested tissue
  3. how they are stored and transported
  4. how the isolated stem cells are finally delivered to the specific parts

That’s just the basic questions. Deeper questions may include – how much stem cells for what treatments? What happens if the patient’s own stem cells are insufficient or worse, not enough to help regeneration and healing.

Very open ended and varied for now, which makes research and discussion fun but that’s why it’s not conclusive for now.

Stem cells combined with PRP injections?

Some doctors recommend the use and application of stem cells combined with platelet-rich plasma (PRP).

PRP, like stem cells, is also harvested from patient’s blood and is used to treat injuries and promote healing using growth factors which are secreted by healthy plateletes.

What happens is that the doctor will draw the blood, and instead of just harvesting stem cells from it, the harvested blood is run through a centrifuge to extract out PRP.

If you’re thinking of having stem cells therapy for your arthritic joints

Stem cell therapy treatments may vary depending on the doctor doing it, so you have to ask these questions:

  1. what’s your experience with stem cell treatment?
  2. if it’s using injection, please use ultrasound to guide the injection
  3. how will my stem cells be harvested, kept and injected
  4. what are the risks and complications

Having honest questions will help to set accurate and realistic expectations, and you’d know what to expect too.

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