By Richard Alleyne, The Telegraph July 13, 2010
A stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis that could revolutionize its treatment is to be tested on patients for the first time in Britain.
The year-long trial could be the first step toward new treatments that avoid the need for joint replacement surgery and pain-relieving drugs.
The therapy involves mixing stem cells with chondrocytes — young cartilage cells — and then injecting them into the joints to patch them up.
Osteoarthritis affects an estimated eight million people in Britain, a million of whom seek help from their doctor.
The condition is caused by wear-and-tear to the surface of joints, leading to stiffness and pain.
In severe cases, the joints have to be replaced with artificial implants.
Each year, about 60,000 hip replacements and about the same number of knee replacements are carried out in Britain, almost all of them due to osteoarthritis. The disease accounts for most of the estimated $8.9 billion a year economic cost to Britain of muscular and skeletal conditions.
The trial, funded by the charity Arthritis Research UK, will use stem cells extracted from the patient and mix them with chondrocytes in a combination therapy which could be widely available in less than five years.
Up to 70 people with knee osteoarthritis will take part in the study, due to be launched before the end of this year. Patients taking part will be recruited from orthopedic centres around Britain.
The trial is part of a five-year research program.
Stem cells are immature undeveloped cells that can be turned into different kinds of tissue and grown in the laboratory.
In the trial, stem cells will be removed from the bone marrow using keyhole surgery and grown in the laboratory for three weeks.
They will then be implanted along with the chondrocytes into the area of damage in the hope of forming new cartilage over a period of several months. Doctors will look at the quality of their knee cartilage and test their ability to perform everyday tasks.