Stem cell therapy could soon become a common treatment for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Current treatments do not reverse the effects of arthritis, but research is showing that stem cell therapy could change this treatment method for the better.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning your immune system—the bodies defense mechanism—attacks healthy cells in the body. Arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks various parts of a joint. The joint experiences destruction and in some cases arthritis can cause secondary conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis affects over 2 million Americans and cannot be cured.
There are numerous treatment methods currently being used, but none of these methods completely reverse the effects of arthritis. If newly diagnosed, patients are given immune suppressive agents for a temporary improvement of symptoms. Other treatments include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs to suppress symptoms, biologics that interfere with immune activity, or complete joint replacements.
Stem cell research is now being applied to arthritis and much progress has already been made. Animals with various types of arthritis have been treated with stem cell therapy. Not only have the stem cells healed damaged tissue, but they have also acted as an immune suppressor in the animal’s joints.
The specific type of stem cells being used are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These stem cells are multipotent and can differentiate into a variety of cells such as cartilage cells, muscle cells, fat cells, and even bone cells. These stem cells are derived from a donated human umbilical cord after a normal, healthy birth. All mothers who donate are tested for infectious disease and undergo medical history screening. Once transplanted, these stem cells only suppress the immune system in the localized area. MSCs also induce the production of T cells which control the immune system.
Although additional research is needed, these “induced” stem cells could provide an invaluable option to patients suffering from arthritis. This research could help patients suffering from other autoimmune diseases as well.
References: Stem Cell Therapy Rheumatoid Arthritis, Stem Cell Insititute; Stem Cell Therapy a Possible Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Health Line