Dr. Farshid Guilak: Can stem cells help those with arthritis? – Stem …

Apr 25

Stems cells taken from just a few grams of body fat are a promising weapon against the crippling effects of osteoarthritis.

For the past two decades, knee, hip or other joint replacements have been the standard treatment for the deterioration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. But artificial joints only last about 15 years and are difficult to repair once they fail.

Stem cell injections may offer a new type of therapy by either stopping the degenerative process or by regenerating the damaged cartilage, said pioneering researcher Dr. Farshid Guilak, a professor of orthopedic surgery and director of orthopedic research at Duke University.

Guilak, one of the first researchers to grow cartilage from fat, explains why stem cells are a bright light in osteoarthritis research and why widespread clinical use is still years away. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Q: How are stem cell injections purported to help?

A: Several studies in animals show that stem cell injections may help by reducing the inflammation in the joint. Stem cells appear to have a natural capacity to produce anti-inflammatory molecules, and once injected in the joint, can slow down the degenerative process in osteoarthritis.

(Since this interview, research published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine has found that stem cells may also be an effective way to deliver therapeutic proteins for pain relief related to rheumatoid arthritis.)

Q: Does the bulk of research look at how stem cells heal traumatic injuries, or does it look at degenerative conditions such as arthritis?

A: Nearly all previous studies on stem cell therapies in joints have focused on trying to repair small focal damage to the cartilage. Only a few recent studies have begun to examine the possibility for treating the whole joint, either to grow enough cartilage to resurface the entire joint or to use stem cells to prevent further degeneration.

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