London: A breakthrough treatment for arthritis using stem cells derived from body fat could see the end of years of pain for millions of sufferers.
The patients suffering from the so far incurable condition may feel the benefit within two weeks and, if used early enough, could avoid the need for joint replacement operations, scientists behind the new technique claim.
Studies have shown that the fat-derived stem cell therapy has been startlingly successful in the treatment of osteoarthritis in pets and it is now being used on humans.
Doctors treat the joint and tendon disease by injecting the stem cells into the affected area, replacing lost or damaged cells.
The jab reduces inflammation and encourages the repair and regrowth of healthy tissue inside the joint.
Although the treatment is still in its infancy, early results are very encouraging as they show that it may help cartilage regeneration, delaying the need for joint replacement by 10 or 20 years.
If the disease is treated at an early stage, it might even halt its progress altogether.
“There are six million people in the UK in constant pain from osteoarthritis,” said Judith Brodie, chief executive of Arthritis Care.
“This new stem cell therapy, if the trials continue to show success, could be transformational.
“While the long-term effects are unknown, and there should be caution due to the early stage of development, Arthritis Care welcomes progress in treating this painful condition,” Brodie said.
A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said that the use of adult stem cells to regenerate cartilage was showing early promise, but was still at an extremely nascent stage.
“In the UK our own scientists are shortly to begin a study that involves taking cells derived from a patient`s bone marrow via key-hole surgery, grow them in the lab and re-inject them back into the patient`s osteoarthritic knee, which is also a very exciting prospect,” the spokeswoman said.
“At the moment stem cells are not the `magic bullet` and they don`t solve the underlying problem of osteoarthritis, which still needs to be addressed.
“But they certainly have huge potential. We just need to learn how to harness it properly,” the spokeswoman said.
Scientists said the treatment is suitable for anyone with early to mid-stage osteoarthritis, but is unlikely to have any effect on seriously damaged joints.
The 6,000 pounds treatment takes around three hours to carry out and does not need an overnight stay. Surgeons remove about seven ounces of stomach fat in a procedure similar to liposuction.
The stem cells are then harvested from the patient`s fat before being injected directly into the knee, after which the patient is free to go home.
Some sufferers reported that the pain they endured before the operation disappeared once the stem cells were injected.