Embryonic Stem Cells to treat Osteoarthritis
Stem cell therapy has been a medical breakthrough that holds a lot of promise – especially in treating arthritis. But so far, only adult stem cells (found in certain “niches” in the body) have been used experimentally, but they cannot be produced in large amounts as the procedure is prohibitively expensive. But on the other hand, the embryonic stem cells’ capacity to multiply quickly offers the possibility of high-volume cartilage production.
In a recent breakthrough, researchers from the University of Manchester in UK have reported successfully producing cartilage in rats using embryonic stem cells. They have attributed their success to a new procedure using human embryonic stem cells, developed under strict laboratory conditions.
Reports of this study funded by Arthritis Research UK were published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. The study shows how they used the new protocol to grow and transform human embryonic stem cells into cartilage cells. Leading the research is Sue Kimber, a professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences at Manchester, who, with her colleagues, hopes their approach could in future be used to treat the painful joint condition osteoarthritis. She notes:
“This work represents an important step forward in treating cartilage damage by using embryonic stem cells to form new tissue, although it’s still in its early experimental stages.”
Creating cartilage cells
Cartilage cells – also known as chondrocytes – are formed from precursor cells called chondroprogenitors. In their study, the team describes how they used the new protocol to generate chondroprogenitors from human embryonic stem cells. They implanted the precursor cartilage cells into damaged cartilage in the knee joints of rats.
After 4 weeks the cartilage was partially repaired. After 12 weeks, the cartilage surface was smooth and similar in appearance to normal cartilage. Later examination of the regenerated cartilage showed that cartilage cells from the embryonic stem cells were still present and active in the tissue.
The study is promising because not only did the new protocol lead to regenerated, healthy-looking cartilage, but there were none of the adverse side-effects that have since dashed the high hopes raised in the early days of stem cell research – the growth of abnormal or disorganized tissue or tumors.
Testing the new protocol in rats is the first step toward running trials in people with arthritis. But before this can happen a lot more needs to be done to show the protocol works and is safe. The team is already planning their next step to build on their findings.
As Dr. Stephen Simpson, director of research at Arthritis Research UK, puts it, “Embryonic stem cells offer an alternative source of cartilage cells to adult stem cells, and we’re excited about the immense potential of Professor Kimber’s work and the impact it could have for people with osteoarthritis.”
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Almonds are rich in calcium – include them in your diet to prevent osteoarthritis.