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Stem Cell Research Inching Closer to Cartilage Repair

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Patients suffering from osteoarthritis are now closer to getting relief for their painful joints as researchers took a step forward in successfully producing cartilage from stem cells.

Using new procedures and protocols, researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK were able to grow healthy cartilage from stem cells under strict laboratory conditions. These studies which were done in rats, showed promising results as the new cartilage was healthy. And just as importantly showed that the rats had none of the adverse side-effects, such as growth of abnormal or disorganized tissue or tumors, which had blackened the results in the early years of stem cell research.

knee xray

The World Health Organization estimates that around 9.6% of men and 18.0% of women aged over 60 years have symptomatic osteoarthritis, a major cause of disability. It is a degenerative disease caused by wearing away of cartilage in joints.

To rejuvenate the joints, the cartilage must be replaced. Cartilage cells - also known as chondrocytes - are formed from precursor cells called chondroprogenitors. The team’s research focused on developing a new protocol to generate these chondroprogenitors from stem cells. They implanted the precursor cartilage cells into damaged cartilage in the knee joints of rats.

After 4 weeks the cartilage was partially repaired. After 12 weeks, the cartilage surface was smooth and similar in appearance to normal cartilage. There were no adverse effects or abnormal growths.

Although still at the experimental stage, this is the first major step to running trials in people with arthritis. Still needed are sufficient tests on efficacy and safety. The team is already planning their next steps, and hopes to produce more positive research in the near future. 

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