Damage or loss of cartilage due to certain medical conditions like osteoarthritis till date is a major cause for knee pain causing disability and missed days from work. A cartilage connects bone to bone and aids in smooth motion of the bone during any activity which in the case of knee is walking. Damage to the cartilage results in increased friction between bones due to rubbing against each other with resultant pain and difficulty ambulating.
Treatment options for cartilage loss or damage begins with conservative treatment which is aimed at pain relief and better quality of life. It starts with use of NSAIDs for calming down pain and inflammation. This is then followed by physical therapy for strengthening and then short term opioid medications. These treatments for cartilage loss tend to pacify the symptoms to a significant degree but the underlying problem is not resolved resulting in recurrence of symptoms when the medications and therapy are stopped. The next line of treatment for cartilage loss or damage is injection of steroids and hyaluronic acid for symptom relief.
If all treatment measures fail, then surgical route is considered and surgery in the form of arthroscopy or microfracture is done to repair the cartilage. There is some success achieved with these treatments; however, there are many patients who continue to live with excruciating knee pain due to cartilage damage or complete loss of cartilage.
With the advancement that medical science has made, doctors have come up with a novel method of stem cell therapy to regenerate damaged or lost cartilage. It is a minimally invasive procedure which is aimed at decreasing inflammation and regenerating damaged cartilage and delay or in some cases completely avoid knee replacement surgery.
Can Stem Cells Help Regenerate Knee Cartilage?
If studies are to be believed then the answer to this question is yes, stem cell therapy can regenerate damaged knee cartilage. Studies suggest that injection of mesenchymal stem cells have shown success in regenerating damaged cartilage and is a better option that implanting an articular cartilage.
The adult stem cells have the potential to transform into cartilage, bone, fat, and even soft tissue. The stem cells also have the ability to eliminate the areas of inflammation and degeneration thus reducing pain and improve quality of life significantly. They also modify the immune system of the body to influence regeneration of cartilage in the areas where they have been damaged.
The results of preclinical and clinical trials have provided initial evidence that stem cell therapy is not only effective but is also safe for humans when used for treatment of damaged knee cartilage and osteoarthritis of the knee. However, research is still ongoing and a detailed study on animals have provided evidence that stem cell treatments lead to cartilage regeneration which can be comparable to the native cartilage.
Thus it can be said that stem cell therapy for treatment of damaged knee cartilage has shown encouraging results and in many cases people have been able to avoid knee replacement surgery as a result of regeneration of the cartilage by stem cell therapy.