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Stem cells could regrow joints

posted 28 Jan 2011, 11:30 by Mpelembe   [ updated 28 Jan 2011, 11:33 ]

Arthritis patients might soon be able to replace their failing joints with joints grown from their own stem cells, rather than conventional artificial replacements. A proof of concept experiment first reported by "The Lancet" showed that rabbits were able to regenerate their own joints and researchers say they now want to start clinical trials with humans.

REUTERS / LANCET / DR. JEREMY MAO OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY - This rabbit's previously damaged thigh joint has been regenerated by the animal's own stem cells.

An arthritic forelimb thigh joint was removed and a polyester and bone scaffold inserted.

The anatomically correct scaffold was infused with a growth factor, triggering the rabbits' own stem cells to regenerate the missing pieces.

Professor Jeremy Mao of the Columbia University Medical Center believes it's only a matter of time before humans will be able to grow their own new knee or hip joints.


"The rabbits were able to bare weight and function, were able to walk and run around in the environment. So that's an indication that we perhaps could replace arthritic joints in patients rather than using metals."

Mao says it took only four months for a complete recovery in the rabbits.

And with FDA approval, he wants to implement the technology in clinical trials on humans.

Mao says receiving a "natural" stem cell joint is no different from getting an artificial one.


"The patients would go to the hospital as they would now to receive a metal joint. But when the surgeon is ready to deliver the joint, instead of the metal joint the surgeon would deliver an anatomically correct scaffold which has been based, the construct based on the images from the patient so that it's exactly the shape, same shape and dimensions that would fit that particular patient."

One area that needs further research, says Mao, is the recovery process.

Independent analysis has suggested that many potential recipients would be elderly and might find it easier to adapt to an artificial joint than to a regenerated one.

And the demands of physiotherapy might also be too challenging for many.

But Mao is convinced that stem cell regeneration is the answer for hundreds of thousands of patients each year who undergo joint replacement.

Time and clinical trials will show whether this vision becomes a reality.

Tara Cleary, Reuters, New York.