Stem cells are immature cells that can divide and change into different types of mature cells with different jobs.
There are 3 main types of stem cells:
Stem cells are not an approved treatment for osteoarthritis in Canada. Treating osteoarthritis with stem cells is still experimental and is being studied.
In Alberta, using stem cells to treat osteoarthritis only happens in research studies.
More research is needed before stem cells can become a standard treatment for osteoarthritis. Researchers are studying stem cells to find out:
Most stem cells used for experimental osteoarthritis treatment are adult MSCs. Researchers can easily collect them from a person's fat or bone marrow.
MSCs are being studied because they can turn into cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon, ligaments, or fat, depending on the type of tissue that surrounds them.
Research shows that MSCs release anti-inflammatory factors that help heal and lessen pain. When they are injected into a joint, some studies show they may help relieve pain, swelling, and loss of movement.
Stem cells can also be used to make an artificial tissue in a laboratory. This lab-made tissue can then be put into a joint to help repair damaged bone, ligaments, and cartilage.
The safety of stem cell treatment depends a lot on how the stem cells are prepared and where the procedure is done. (It must happen in a very clean and sterile place.)
Most stem cell treatments use a person’s own MSCs from their bone marrow or fat. Research shows these treatments are very safe for osteoarthritis.
Some stem cell treatments use stem cells donated from other people’s tissues. The possible risks of using donor sterm cells include:
If you decide to have a stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis, you will need follow-up to watch for unwanted side effects.
Research so far doesn’t show that a stem cell treatment alone cures osteoarthritis.
It also doesn't show that the treatment can rebuild a damaged joint in people who have been living with osteoarthritis for a while or who have advanced osteoarthritis.
Some tissue-engineering studies are showing that cartilage can be repaired if the damage is treated early.
People respond differently to this treatment. Some people have had long-term pain relief that lasts more than a year. Other people have not had any less pain.
More research is needed to know if stem cell treatment works well for osteoarthritis and why it works better for some people than others.
Stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis is not available in Alberta.
If you’re thinking about having stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis outside of Alberta, here is what you need to know:
Treatments called “regenerative therapies” are sometimes called stem cell treatments. But these treatments, including platelet rich plasma (PRP). don't use stem cells. It’s more correct to call this type of treatment a “cell therapy,” because it uses a type of blood cell called a platelet.
Some treatments also use materials shed from adult stem cells, but these are also experimental.
If you are thinking about stem cell treatments for osteoarthritis outside of Alberta, ask the provider or clinic these questions to learn about safety and quality:
Current as of: June 8, 2023
Author: Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services
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