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Stem cell hope for arthritis

First UK trial using stem cells to treat osteoarthritis initiated by Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital, Arthritis Research UK and Keele University

A trial of stem cells to treat osteoarthritis is to take place at Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire. The trial of up to 70 participants, which is being funded by Arthritis Research UK and conducted by scientists from Keele University, will begin by December and will take place over the course of one year. It is part of a five-year, £500,000 research programme, and represents the first such trial in the UK.

It will compare the effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cells (derived from bone marrow) against that of chondrocytes (cultured cartilage cells) in repairing worn cartilage in the knee, caused by osteoarthritis.

Chondrocytes and mesenchymal stem cells in combination will also be assessed for the potential to halt and reverse cartilage degeneration caused by osteoarthritis, with the ultimate aim of delaying or removing the need for knee replacement surgery.

Success will be measured in terms of quality of cartilage and ability to perform everyday activities.

The trial is being conducted in Oswestry for two reasons; for the past four years, the hospital has been using mesenchymal stem cells to repair fractured bone, plus it has experience of using the autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) technique, which uses chondrocytes to treat patients with cartilage problems in small areas.

"We are the first laboratory in the UK producing mesenchymal stem cells and chondrocytes for treating patients, so we are unique in being able to test the effectiveness of both types of cell therapy," Professor James Richardson, a principal investigator in the study, commented.

Osteoarthritis is currently treated with pain medication and joint replacement surgery, when necessary. Stem cell treatment has the potential to be less invasive and more effective, though its use would probably be limited to those patients who are not good candidates for replacement surgery, such as younger sufferers.

14th July 2010

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