The world of stem cell therapy is making advances every day, and the different conditions that could benefit from it are growing every more numerous. Counted among their numbers is the autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints of the body. It is a long term condition that causes unpredictable flare ups. Because it’s an autoimmune condition, meaning the body’s own immune system, the very system that is in place to prevent infection and to fight them when they do occur, mistakes the body’s own joints for an infection and attacks the cells that line them, aggravating them, causing inflammation, stiffness and pain.
And the worst part is, that there are no known triggers for what causes the immune system to start attacking the body.
To date, studies have shown that if you’re female (oestrogen could be a trigger), a smoker or if there is rheumatoid arthritis in the family, chances are you could become an unfortunate sufferer. Nothing else about this cause of this condition is known.
Current treatments for rheumatoid arthritis
There are treatments available currently for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to help them manage the symptoms of a flare up, but at present, there is no known cure.
The best way to treat rheumatoid arthritis currently includes taking disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARD), as these help ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as well as slowing down the disease’s progression.
These medicines can be taken alongside biological treatments, which are a newer form of treatment, and are usually only prescribed if the DMARDs on their own haven’t worked. Biological treatments are given intravenously and they essentially stop certain chemicals in your blood from triggering an attack by the immune system on the body’s joints.
Aside from these treatments, sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis have to manage the pain of a flare up with painkillers, or try to reduce inflammation through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In more severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis, surgery may be required to replace a badly affected joint.
And so reports that stem cell therapy could potentially help reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis affected joints, as well as preventing the immune system from attacking the very body it is supposed to be protecting, are received gladly by sufferers the world over.
How stem cell therapy could help treat rheumatoid arthritis
Stem cells don’t have one designated particular function, meaning they have the unique capability of becoming any number of different cells. And so stem cells can be manipulated by scientists to become specific types of cells, in particular, they’re capable of regenerating damaged tissues.
And rheumatoid arthritis not only causes inflammation in the joints, but it also reduces the cartilage in the joint over time. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are stem cells that can become cartilage and bone.Stem cell therapy involving MSCs sees these cells injected into the tissues surrounding arthritic joints.
Research has also shown that MSCs not only have potent anti-inflammatory properties, but that they’re immunomodulatory too, meaning they are capable of suppressing the immune system. Which makes MSC therapy a very real potential alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies into stem cell therapy and rheumatoid arthritis
Whilst some clinics do already use stem cell therapy to help treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, the research is still very much in its infancy and requires further scientific investigation before it can become a more commonplace treatment.
Whilst most trials to date are studying the anti-inflammatory effects of stem cell therapy, the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre is currently studying the use of stem cells to see if they could regenerate cartilage. Because it is hoped that in the future stem cell therapy could be used to remove the need for joint replacement surgery in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, by instead using the patient’s own stem cells to regenerate the damaged or lost cartilage.
So whilst there is no cure on the horizon for those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, there are potential alternative treatments that don’t require patients to go under the knife. And that should be cause for celebration any day.