New advanced cell therapy using mesenchymal stem cells to treat rheumatoid arthritis
In some cases, people think of arthritis as a condition that results in mild aches and pains—no big deal. But for many patients, the pain isn’t mild at all.
Osteoarthritis is the more common form of the disease and usually impacts older adults. But rheumatoid arthritis, can develop in patients as young as 16. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are almost twice as many women than men who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
In both diseases cartilage in joints such as knees, elbows, and others begins to deteriorate. This cartilage tissue normally cushions between the small bones in these joints, working as a “shock absorber” to protect these smaller bones. As cartilage continues to deteriorate, patients suffer more pain and inflammation. Eventually, joints can become seriously damaged and deformed.
But while osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of cartilage tissue from leading an active life, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues, including the cartilage in the joints. Scientists aren’t sure why this disease develops in some patients, but evidence suggests there is a genetic factor because people with a family history of the disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
Serious symptoms, but limited treatment options
Rheumatoid arthritis develops differently in each patient. For some, symptoms develop over several years. For others, the disease progresses more rapidly. These symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling in one or more joints. Some patients may experience some remission of symptoms and then experience sudden flare-ups.
In addition to joint damage, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause other complications, such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Inflammation of the heart or lungs
- Increased risk of lymphoma
Standard treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Physical therapy
Physical therapists can often recommend exercises and new ways to accomplish daily tasks that will put less pressure on joints. The way you would reach for an object or pick something up from the floor can help ease pain.
Physicians often prescribe various types of medications. These include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- COX-2 inhibitors
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- And others
Medications may not always be effective, or they may become less effective over time. In addition, most medications can have side effects that can cause other health issues.
When physical therapy or medications don’t slow damage to joints, some patients undergo various types of surgeries, including:
- Removing the inflamed lining of a joint
- Joint fusion. Surgically fusing a joint may stabilize or realign a joint and relieve pain
- Joint replacement. Removing the damaged parts of a joint and inserting a metal or plastic prosthesis
New advanced treatments available: Stem cell therapy
One reason why treating rheumatoid arthritis is complex is because it’s an autoimmune disease. The deterioration of cartilage is the result of an unbalanced immune response, which can also trigger excess inflammation.
Normally, the immune system protects our bodies from the invasion of foreign pathogens that can cause infection and disease. When the immune system recognizes a threat, inflammation is triggered, which signals other cells in the body to attack nonexistent threats to our health. But with autoimmune diseases, the immune system signals the body to attack threats that don’t exist, or even destroy healthy body tissue.
Researchers and scientists worldwide have evaluated stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for rheumatoid arthritis because it can help restore proper immune system response, and in turn, reduce pain and inflammation as well as help the body promote healing of damaged cartilage tissue (tissue remodeling).
Unlike medications that may not be effective in the long term or surgery, which can pose risks of complications, stem cell therapy takes advantage of the body’s natural healing processes.
When mesenchymal stems cells (MSCs) are injected into joints, they can help signal other cells in the body to restore a more appropriate balance between the body’s immune response to reduce excess inflammation. These signaling characteristics also stimulate the body’s natural healing process to help regenerate cartilage tissue.
So while mesenchymal stem cells don’t turn into cells to replace cartilage in rheumatoid arthritis patients, these cells can in some ways teach the body how to heal itself. The result? Improved joint function, less pain and inflammation, and a better quality of life.
There are many different types and sources of stem cells. Some clinics use mesenchymal stem cells harvested from the patient, either from bone marrow or adipose (fatty) tissue. At BioXcellerator we use cells from umbilical cords because research shows that these young cells offer more therapeutic potential. Using our proprietary protocols, we culture and expand these cells to improve the potency of these cells and effectiveness of treatment.
Ongoing research demonstrates promising results
Scientists continue to research the potential for these mesenchymal stem cells to help patients.
One placebo-controlled trial published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine in 2016 investigated the safety and efficacy of intravenous infusion of allogeneic umbilical cord-derived MSCs in patients with RA. The study included 40 patients, with 20 receiving MSCs and 20 receiving a placebo. The results showed that MSC treatment was safe and well-tolerated, and it led to significant improvements in disease activity, joint function, and quality of life compared to the placebo group.
Studies like these continue to demonstrate the potential results from stem cell therapy to help rheumatoid arthritis patients enjoy life with less pain.