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Stem Cell Research Reveals New Way to Treat Osteoarthritis

Young researcher looking into genetic traits for rheumatoid arthritis patientsThe most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative illness that breaks down the cartilage of the joints. This degeneration happens as a natural part of the aging process following many years of constant wear and tear. It’s quite common amongst adults over the age of 55, but it can also occur at a much younger age. In any case, just around 30 million Americans are living with OA.

There’s a massive need for treatments, which are primarily focused on easing pain in the affected joints. Joint replacement surgery is often required once the illness has advanced further along. However, there is new research which could eventually help eliminate the need for joint replacement as a result of OA. A new type of therapy that could stop arthritis progression and even reverse joint damage.

Creating a Biological Roadmap of Joint Cartilage

Denis Evseenko, MD, PhD, from UCLA was awarded a prestigious two-year grant from the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF). In that team, his team of stem cell researchers have been tracking the early-development of human joint cartilage. Their insights can be used to create a biological roadmap for therapies that could repair cartilage defects and damage from osteoarthritis.

These revolutionary stem-cell therapies could be tested in clinical trials like the ones we are conducting here in Birmingham within the next three years. If proven successful, it would effectively make joint replacement surgeries obsolete. People who have been diagnosed with OA would actually be able to regenerate critically damaged cartilage and reinforce bone structure.

The bones of the joints are protected by the highly specialized tissue called articular cartilage. It facilitates a nearly frictionless motion between the two bones that are connected at the joint. Significant injuries (often from accidents or athletic-related injuries) around the joint can easily lead to osteoarthritis, especially when there is a lack of cartilage regeneration.

The Missing Link for Osteoarthritis

Woman holding knee afflicted with osteoarthritis (OA)Evseenko’s research has uncovered a missing link between developmental biology and tissue engineering. This discovery has provided scientists with markers which can tell them if cartilage cells are developing appropriately.

“We began with three questions about cartilage development,” explained Evseenko. “We wanted to know the key molecular mechanisms, the key cell populations and the developmental stages in humans. We carefully studied how these cells developed, watching not only their genes but other biological markers that will allow us to apply the system for the improvement of current stem cell–based therapeutic approaches.”

Animal-based components are often used to grow stem cells, as they allow them a chance to proliferate. Unfortunately these components can also produce undesirable variations and contamination. Evseenko’s team chose to not use any of these components which makes it possible to produce stem cell serums and other therapies that are safe to use.

This research has shown that there are several types of cells involved in the regeneration of tissue. At this time, Evseenko and his colleagues are working with a variety of cellular combinations found in the joints to regenerate cartilage. The next step is to identify the combination of cells that would be optimal for therapeutic use.

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