Stem Cells: Myth or Magic in Treatment for Knee Arthritis?

Nikita Vischer, M.D.
One of the most frequent topics that my patients with knee arthritis at Northern Colorado Orthopedic Associates want to discuss is stem cell therapy. Stem cells are readily available for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee, but do they work? Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease is the destruction of the cartilage or smooth gliding surface on the ends of the bones where they come together to form joints. Stem cells are a part of regenerative medicine, an area of medicine that attempts to restore function and structure of damaged tissues and organs. Stem cells are cells with the potential to develop into many different cells in the body including muscle cells, blood cells and others. Therefore, stem cells can serve as a repair system in the body. Adult stem cells are found in many organs and tissues but are generally either taken from adipose (fat tissue) or bone marrow from the iliac (pelvic) bone. Your own body’s stem cells are obtained and then injected back into the knee joint to stimulate the body to repair and replace damaged tissue.
Unfortunately, according to Anthony Romeo, M.D. in Orthopedicstoday Jun 2017, there is a lack of scientific evidence to show that stem cells are effective and there are no treatments today that can regenerate cartilage to resurface an arthritic joint. Furthermore, research studies on stem cells often do not include enough patients to show reliable results and the results vary from study to study. An article reviewing stem cell therapy in 2017 Stem Cell International agrees that there is no available treatment for stopping the joint destruction of osteoarthritis and any benefit occurs from a decrease in symptoms which is probably a result of reducing inflammation (https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2638305).
In conclusion, at this time the treatment of osteoarthritis in the knee is a myth. Stem cells do not cure osteoarthritis of the knee. There is no consistent scientific evidence that stem cells offer symptom relief. Since the FDA has not approved stem cells for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee, health insurances will not cover the treatment resulting in high fees to the patient.

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