Are there stem cell therapies for arthritis?
There are currently no stem cell therapies approved by Health Canada or the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of arthritis. Patients exploring their options may find companies with websites that say otherwise and offer fee-based stem cell treatments. Many of these claims are not supported by substantiated scientific evidence. Therefore, patients are asked to review some of the links below before making any crucial decisions about their treatment plan.
Stem cells are the building blocks of all human tissues. Stem cells offer potential for treatment, in part because they can provide valuable information about tissue growth and healing to other body cells. Arthritis involves joint degeneration due to the loss of cartilage, which buffers the bones. Recently, researchers have begun to study stem cells for orthopedic diseases such as shoulder arthritis. Progress has been reported in the treatment of stem cell arthritis with the ultimate goal of using stem cells to regrow cartilage.
Stem cell research is a very new medical field
In discussing stem cell therapy, it is important to understand that US patients outside of a clinical research study currently have no pure stem cells available. A handful of clinical research studies, supervised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are in progress to investigate stem cell treatment for arthritis. The first findings from these studies are encouraging.
Unfortunately, the excitement associated with emerging stem cell therapy has led some patients and healthcare providers to overlook the lack of scientific evidence supporting their use at this time. Stem cell therapies currently used outside of clinical trials do not contain pure stem cells. Rather, they are a mixture of different cells, of which only a very small percentage are stem cells. It is possible that many of these treatments do not contain enough stem cells to help.
It is also important to note that many stem cell therapies now being marketed directly to patients are performed without the FDA’s required biologics license. Some forms of mislabeled stem cell therapies also contain no live stem cells. Such practices are a cause for concern, as these treatments can mislead patients and the public and delay the scientific advances needed to turn stem cell therapies into healings.
Stem cells can help against athritis
Research on stem cells and arthritis shows that stem cell therapy can be used as an injection therapy alone and in addition to orthopedic surgery. Successful stem cell therapies have so far mainly led to pain relief and improvement in function or quality of life. Few limited early studies have shown that improving cartilage or bone formation is needed to cure arthritis. How exactly this cartilage growth occurs or how even pain relief is achieved is not yet known. That is, if you have a stem cell procedure, it will only be used to treat the symptoms of arthritis. The ability to completely cure the disease is not yet available.
No major research studies have specifically looked at stem cell treatment for shoulder arthritis. What is known about stem cells in arthritis comes to a large extent from the research of the knee generation. It is not known whether the successes in the treatment of knee arthritis prove to be similarly beneficial when used for the shoulder. Therefore, the current recommendations for the treatment of shoulder arthritis remain the judicious use of gentle analgesics, exercise and occasional steroid injections. In severe cases, the shoulder replacement can cause a long lasting pain relief.