Clinics and universities around the country are in the early stages of testing if stem cells can be used to treat osteoarthritis in the knee. Sanford Health is one of the hospitals involved in the study and will test a group of around 120 patients.
Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that occurs when the cartilage on the end of bones degrades over time, causing the bones to make contact.
Dr. Chad Kurtenbach is an orthopedic surgeon with Sanford Health. He says arthritis tends to happen naturally as people get older but can be accelerated by injuries and trauma.
Kurtenbach says the pain is different for each patient and short-term treatment commonly includes anything from rest to steroid injections and physical therapy. He says this study will investigate if stem cells are more effective at treating arthritis and delaying the need for more invasive treatments like knee replacement surgery.
“This study is specifically looking at something that we’ve done for years – and even decades at this point – to treat arthritis and say ‘Is there a better way? Is there something that’s a more long-lasting treatment?” and that’s where the stem cell study comes in,” says Kurtenbach.
Kurtenbach says everyone has stem cells circulating throughout their body, but some areas are easier to access, and younger stem cells tend to have more potency.
He says the study will compare stem cells taken from adipose, or fatty tissue, bone marrow, and umbilical tissue. He says there is a huge potential for the use of stem cells in medicine and researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface.
“Really what we’re trying to harness ultimately is our own regeneration potential. So, we all have healing potential circulating in our bodies. That’s how we heal cuts, heal broken bones, etc. So, we’re trying to figure out, can we harness some of that healing potential – some of that regeneration potential – for specific conditions,” says Kurtenbach.
Kurtenbach says they are currently looking for participants between the ages of 40 and 70. He says the treatment will involve one injection, and researchers will follow patients for around a year to track pain and function. He says the patients will know where the stem cells used in their treatment originated, but neither the researchers nor patients will know if they were injected with stem cells or a steroid.