Stem Cells May Well Offer New Hope for Arthritis Sufferers

Arthritis impacts more than 40 million people within the United States alone. Most people are familiar with osteoarthritis. More than 20 million people have this kind of arthritis. This is where cartilage covering the bone at the joints wears away over a lifetime and leads to joint pain that limits range of motion. This pain is usually noticed first in the hips, hands, knees and spine.

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common type of arthritis that afflicts about 2 million people. It is characterized by inflammation in the lining of the joints. Loss of cartilage can lead to bone loss and deformation. While the ultimate cause is not yet known, the direct cause is an autoimmune disease that attacks cells around the joints. Pain, inflammation and redness are common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

The type of cartilage of concern in arthritis is named articular cartilage. It is a skinny white covering over the ends of the bones that helps them glide over each other smoothly and without pain. As this articular cartilage is worn away, the bones rub or grate against each other causing pain. Anyone suffering in this way finds it hard to move their limbs using the full range of motion and suffers a reduced lifestyle.

This articular cartilage does not have the capability of repairing itself or regenerating new cartilage. There are no blood vessels within the cartilage to provide any regeneration or repair capability. The cartilage of the adult is supposed to last a lifetime. There is no possibility of healing without outside intervention.

There are several doctor recommended steps you should take to help prolong the life of your cartilage. Since many joints are weight bearing, decreasing the stress on these joints by losing weight is of foremost importance. Avoid high impact tasks like lengthy running or jumping. And, you ought to engage in reasonable, non-stressful activities like walking or bicycling. Proper nutrients and vitamins for joints help ensure suitable lubrication is available to help joints work smoothly.

Traditional interventions to repair and regenerate cartilage involve surgery. Shaving cartilage from one region and placing it where it is desired is one arthroscopic surgery method. Abrading and scraping the bone where cartilage has eroded away is another method. Holes are picked into the bone causing blood and bone marrow fill the defect and eventually mature into a scar that will become a hybrid cartilage.

Newer approaches to arthritis treatment involve stem cells. Stem cells are the building blocks of just about any kind of cell, including cartilage. Introducing stem cells in areas where cartilage was damaged or worn away has become commercially available for animals and is being tested on humans.

Stem cells for animals are taken from their own fat cells. This is currently being done by Vet-Stem in California. The animal is sedated and a couple spoon fulls of fat are removed from that animal. The fat is placed in a sterilized vial and dispatched to Vet-Stem. The stem cells are extracted from the fat and returned to the vet. They are then introduced into the joint where new cartilage is needed. After several months enough cartilage has been created to allow the animal to exhibit an amazing recovery.

A number of universities are now running human trials of a similar nature. If these trials show a beneficial result, the process should become available in just a few years. Many companies want to begin to commercialize the process for our aging population. Hence, help to regenerate cartilage and eliminate joint soreness is coming exactly when the baby boomers need it.