London: In a ray of hope for arthritis sufferers, scientists claim to be developing a "pioneering" stem cell treatment which could help repair worn-out joints that cause crippling pain and stiffness.
A team at the University of Keele has come up with a technique that uses stem cells to treat osteoarthritis – a disease which gradually wears down the cartilage in between
bones, the `Daily Mail` reported.
Arthritis results in the joints becoming inflamed, painful and stiff. In severe cases, the cartilage becomes so thin that the ends of the bone rub against each other causing
them to be deformed.
But, the scientists say that stem cells taken from the patient`s bone marrow could be transferred to the infected joint to encourage growth of the cartilage. The cells would be
initially removed by keyhole surgery and then put into a lab for three months allowing them to grow.
They would then be implanted into the joint and scientists believe that over the course of a few months the cells would form new cartilage -- drastically reducing the inflammation and pain experienced by the patient.
The scientists plan to carry out the first human trial of the treatment later this year at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire.
Around 70 people with osteoarthritis in their knees will take part. Doctors will monitor them over the course of the year looking at their cartilage and their ability to carry
out day-to-day tasks.
Scientists hope that the treatment will be available for patients within the next five to 10 years but they stress there is still a long way to go. Prof Sally Roberts, one of the leaders of the trial, said it`s important not to see stem cells as a "miracle cure".
"They certainly have huge potential. We just need to learn how to harness it properly. Stem cells are portrayed as `wonder cells` that can do anything but they can`t give you
the joints of a 15-year-old. At the moment they are not the `magic bullet` and they don`t solve the underlying problem of osteoarthritis which still needs to be addressed," she said.
Added Prof James Richardson, team member: "The benefit to the patient may be not to prevent the need for a joint replacement, but to prevent the need for a revision
Stem cells are immature cells which can be removed from the body and turned into different types of tissue in the laboratory. They can then be used to replace dead or worn-out cells.