Stem cell therapy can reverse osteoarthritis

Wednesday, 05 June, 2019

Stem cell therapy can reverse osteoarthritis

The biggest stem cell trial of its type in the world has proved that pure stem cells provide a more effective treatment for osteoarthritis than traditional therapies, such as pain relief drugs, anti-inflammatories, prescribed exercise and knee surgery.

Almost one-sixth of Australians suffer with osteoarthritis, which is the fourth-leading cause of disability worldwide. The only treatment options available to most are pain relief drugs, prescribed exercise, knee surgery and joint replacement.

Now, researchers from Melbourne Stem Cell Centre and Magellan Stem Cells have conducted a year-long study on the benefits of adipose-derived stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis sufferers. The results of their study, published in the journal Regenerative Medicine, included the following:

  • Statistical and clinically significant pain and function improvement following stem cell therapy in 85% of patients (observed as early as one month following treatment).
  • A dramatic decrease in pain and a big increase in functional activity in trial subjects, resulting in their quality of life scores improving almost three-fold (290%).
  • Average pain improvement of 69% at 12 months follow-up.
  • Significantly greater pain improvement compared to current conventional therapies, including use of anti-inflammatories, a prescribed exercise program and knee arthroscopy.
  • Progression of arthritis halted in the majority (89%) of participants who underwent multiple stem cell injections.
  • Evidence of cartilage regrowth in some instances.
  • No serious adverse events.

“This is the largest published trial of its type on the benefits of stem cell therapy and osteoarthritis,” said Associate Professor Julien Freitag, Head of Clinical Research at Melbourne Stem Cell Centre.

“It validates stem cell therapy as a real treatment option.”

The results in the randomised controlled trial are further qualified by follow-up of almost 200 private case-series patients treated by Melbourne Stem Cell Centre. In what Assoc Prof Freitag calls “real-world research”, the results for private patients include the following:

  • 86.3% of patients noted improvement at 12 months follow-up. Long-term follow-up shows sustained improvement beyond two years.
  • More than 50% of patients with severe bone-on-bone arthritis noted more than 50% improvement in pain.
  • 70% of patients with moderate knee arthritis noted more than 50% improvement in pain.
  • Overall the mean pain score improved by 45%.
  • Quality of life improved on average by 60%.

The results mean that stem cells are now the only treatment proved to successfully stabilise and halt the progression of osteoarthritis, found to be four times as effective as typically prescribed pain-relief drugs and four times as effective as prescribed exercise and surgical interventions, including arthroscopy.

“The results conclusively show that stem cell therapy is a safe and effective treatment option in the management of arthritis,” Assoc Prof Freitag said.

“The research shows that stem cell treatment increases joint function, reduces pain levels and halts the progression of osteoarthritis.”

Assoc Prof Freitag did, however, caution patients that not all stem cell treatments are the same, noting, “The results of this study are specifically for adipose (fat)-derived, high-dose, expanded stem cells.

“It takes up to eight weeks to harvest, expand and perform quality control measures to ensure that stem cells are pure, viable and not contaminated.

“Other treatment options (often same-day procedures), which might be described as stem cell therapy, do not show the evidence that this research has found.”

Assoc Prof Freitag added that research-based stem cell treatment should not replace traditional treatment.

“It is important for patients to follow their doctor’s advice, which may be to continue with traditional methods such as exercise and weight management, which are important additional factors in achieving a healthy and active lifestyle,” he said.

“Stem cell therapy may be one piece of the puzzle in the management of arthritis, but it does not replace the proactive measures which can be achieved by patients themselves.”

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