Adult Stem Cell Research May Help Patients With Knee Problems, Arthritis

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 22, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cell Research May Help Patients With Knee Problems, Arthritis

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 22, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Adult stem cell research may soon have another medical issue that can be added to the list of diseases or ailments patients have that it can offer help. Scientists are studying whether injections of bone marrow cells can spark regrowth in cartilage to help repair damaged knees.

Knee problems are very common — they occur in people of all ages and can be the result of disease or injury.

Several kinds of supporting and moving parts, including bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, help the knees do their job. Each of these structures is subject to disease and injury.

The ends of the three bones in the knee joint are covered with articular cartilage, a tough, elastic material that helps absorb shock and allows the knee joint to move smoothly. The cartilage can be damaged or deteriorate over time, but it has a limited ability to repair itself.

Doctors are hoping that adult stem cells could spark that self-repair ability and put it into overdrive.

If successful, the adult stem cell treatments could bring new hope for people with sports injuries or senior citizens suffering from arthritis.

The first clinical trial involving the bone marrow stem cells has begun to try to regenerate the meniscus. Doctors will be using mesenchymal stem cells, the adult stem cells that live in bone marrow and can transform into cartilage-forming cells called chondrocytes.

Some 55 patients have signed up for both stem cell injections and a placebo and the first results are expected to come in around October.

Dr. C. Thomas Vangsness of the University of Southern California, is the lead researcher in the study, which has been funded by stem-cell producer Osiris Therapeutics.

"No one’s ever looked at the meniscus in terms of volume," he told AP. "It’s very interesting what I’m seeing."

He said he has not encountered any safety problems yet and is looking forward to finding out the results when the study is completed.

Vangsness also said he wants to make sure too many cartilage cells aren’t produced.

"You want to make some cartilage cells. Well, how do you turn it off? You don’t want too many. We’re sort of walking a tightrope," he told AP.

"It’s very, very exciting research," Dr. David C. Johnson, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Washington Hospital Center, told the Associated Press.