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'Outstanding' results in as-yet-unpublished arthritis stem cell trials

16 July 2012

By Dr Greg Ball

Appeared in BioNews 665

Two UK newspapers have hailed a potential treatment for osteoarthritis using a patient's own stem cells, although results from early studies in animals and patients are yet to be published.

The experimental technique was developed by Australian biotech company Regeneus and uses stem cells from the patient's fat tissue which are injected into affected joints. According to the Daily Express the technology has been 'startlingly successful in the treatment of osteoarthritis in pets'. Were it to be as successful in patients, the newspaper continues, it would delay 'the need for joint replacement by 10 or 20 years' and could stop disease progression entirely if diagnosed early.

However, these animal studies do not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed publication. Results from an early clinical trial, which apparently took place last year at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, 'are not are not due to be published until 2013', according to the Daily Mail.

Judith Brodie, chief executive of the charity Arthritis Care, cautiously welcomed the news: 'This new stem cell therapy, if the trials continue to show success, could be transformational. While the long-term effects are unknown, and there should be caution due to the early stage of development, Arthritis Care welcomes progress in treating this painful condition'.

In osteoarthritis the cartilage in people's joints degenerates, causing pain and reduced movement. There is currently no cure and in severe cases joint replacement surgery is required. Regeneus' therapy aims to replace lost or damaged stem cells in the joint, reducing inflammation and promoting cartilage regrowth.

The company also reports success of its technology in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis. Professor Maree Smith, from the University of Queensland, who was involved in the as-yet-unpublished work said: 'A key finding was that secretions from a mixture of mesenchymal stem cells and adipocytes [fat cells] are more therapeutically powerful than secretions from mesenchymal stem cells alone'.

However, Brodie pointed out the complexity of arthritic disease and the need for more research, saying: 'At the moment stem cells are not the 'magic bullet' and they don't solve the underlying problem of osteoarthritis, which still needs to be addressed'.

In the UK as many as ten million people may have some form of arthritis. The Daily Mail reports that the NHS currently spends around £1 billion on knee replacement surgeries.

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