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The most effective stem cells for treating knee discomfort and loss of knee function come from the adipose fat cells of patients or from the umbilical cord tissue of donors.

The meta-analysis summarizes the findings from 16 studies that included 875 individuals in stem cell trials for osteoarthritis in the knee. In the studies, 336 males participated. The age range of the participants was 51–69 years old. Four hundred and forty-one recipients of stem cells were compared to forty-six controls.

Overall, knee discomfort significantly decreased for those receiving treatment with any of the stem cells, beginning at three months of treatment, highlighting the therapy’s potential for treating osteoarthritis in the knee.

In Osteoarthritis, What Happens?

The most often affected joint by osteoarthritis is the knee. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 365 million individuals worldwide suffer from knee osteoarthritis at present.

According to earlier research, males had a lifetime risk of approximately 40% and women a lifetime risk of 47% of having symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.

When a person develops osteoarthritis of the knee, the cartilage in the joint degrades and the bones scrape against one other, resulting in friction.

Pain may cause people to become less active, which can worsen obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, among other health problems.

Knee osteoarthritis can have a number of reasons, such as:

  • joint sprains, fractures, and persistent joint stress
  • joint illnesses
  • metabolic conditions, such diabetes
  • metabolic problems, systemic inflammation, and obesity, which results in the joint carrying too much weight
  • sex: women experience osteoarthritis more frequently than males
  • genetics

Knee Regenerative Medicine

Although not participating in the current study, Dr. Gendai Echezona of Premier Pain Care and Wellness pointed out that regenerative therapy for the knee is not a novel concept. She pointed out that platelet-rich plasma injections and stem cell therapy are both components of regenerative medicine.

“This particular study,” she said, “focuses on the newer treatment of mesenchymal stem cell therapy as a treatment for knee osteoarthritis. Mesenchymal stem cells  may be bone-marrow derived, derived from adipose tissue (from fat), or umbilical-cord derived.”

Mesenchymal stem cells have the ability to differentiate into a variety of connective tissue types. They are spindle-shaped and have big nuclei.

“Although there are studies evaluating various stem cells and comparing these treatments to platelet rich plasma, few studies directly compare different types of stem cells for treatment of knee osteoarthritis,” said Dr. Echezona.

“This study,” said Skidmore College’s Dr. Paul Arciero, also not involved in the research, “provides a systematic review comparison of the different types of stem cell therapies and their overall effectiveness on alleviating knee joint pain, restoring knee joint function, and minimizing knee joint trauma.”

Alternative Osteoarthritis Therapies

Dr. Echezona enumerated the knee osteoarthritis treatment options that are now available.

According to Dr. Echezona, the FDA in the United States has not yet approved the use of stem cells for treating osteoarthritis in the knee.

“Many therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee involve lifestyle modifications such as exercise, weight loss if appropriate, and diets rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Physical therapy is a great option to increase strength, improve range of motion and flexibility, and even reduce pain.”

After a Stem Cell Treatment, What Would Happen?

“Stem cell implantation may potentially repair affected tissue, develop new cartilage, decrease inflammation, and slow down further degeneration,” explained Dr. Echezona.

“This leads to decreased pain and improved functionality, which can contribute to joint strengthening,” she said.

The research and meta-analysis rate people’s pain using a variety of scoring methods.

“As patient pain scores are improved,” said Dr. Arciero, “restoration of function, including increased mobility/movement and subsequent strengthening and flexibility will follow. This allows for return to activities of daily living and enhanced well-being.”

“Exercise,” predicted Dr. Echezona, “is appropriate and will likely be encouraged with stem cell implants.”

Drs. Arciero and Echezona both advised recipients of stem cell therapy to extensively check with their doctors before beginning any new fitness regimen.

An Advisory

Dr. Echezona warned that “what we all have to keep in mind is that there is a lack of standardization in treatment protocols, especially regarding the cell type, cell source, cell quality, cell dose, and criteria used to evaluate treatment outcomes and safety.”

“Despite this, the treatments show excellent potential, so we look forward to future studies to support efficacy and safety,” said Dr. Echezona.

The meta-analysis’s authors prioritized stem cells based on their efficacy, starting with mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical tissues, then adipose tissue from the patient, and lastly bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells.

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