By Nathan Wei
A feature article appearing on ABC News (Newcomb "Stem Cell Treatments for Zoo Animals Hold Promise for Humans) underscored the interest that both scientists as well as lay people have in the new technology of using stem cells to repair and treat degenerative conditions.
"We just extract them, concentrate them, wash them and in the same setting readminster them. Inject them in your heart or your knees, wherever you need them," Dr. Eckhard Alt told ABC Station KTRK-TV in Houston after treating an arthritic pig at the Houston Zoo."
So... can this technology be applied to humans?
Here are seven tips about stem cells (SCs) for arthritis treatment you might want to know...
1. There are four types of SCs currently being studied. They are embryonic SCs, allogeneic (donor) SCs, induced pluripotential adult SCs, and finally autologous SCs. Of these four, only two, donor SCs and autologous SCs have been used in either animals or humans to treat arthritis.
2. The SC that appears to generate the most interest is the autologous SC. This is the SC that is present in the patient and can be found in bone marrow, periosteum of bone, fat, and peripheral blood. Autologous SCs are referred to as "repair SCs" because these are the SCs that help with the healing process.
3. Arthritis occurs as a result of cartilage degeneration. Various attempts at inducing cartilage healing with SCs have met with mixed results. The results appear to be highly dependent upon the following factors: age of the patient, body mass index (BMI), extent of cartilage loss, and the technical expertise of the center performing the procedure.
4. The processing and administering of SCs for an arthritis problem is more than just getting SCs out and injecting them. There appears to be a need for some type of acute injury to help stimulate the stem cells to multiply and divide.
5. Possible complications of SC treatment can vary. They include the following: infection, rejection, graft versus host reaction, malignancy, and transmission of genetic disease.
6. The need for a cartilage restorative procedure is very evident since the only treatments available currently for osteoarthritis are palliative, meaning pain control only. This is not satisfactory.
7. In the proper hands autologous SC treatment can be successful. Early data indicating an improvement in cartilage thickness in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee has been published.
(Wei N, Beard S, Delauter S, Bitner C, Gillis R, Rau L, Miller C, Clark T. Guided Mesenchymal Stem Cell Layering Technique for Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee. J Applied Res. 2011; 11: 44-48)
Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis Treatment Center http://www.arthritistreatmentcenter.com. He is a former Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and consultant to the National Institutes of Health. For more info: http://www.arthritis-treatment-and-relief.com/arthritis-treatment.html
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