Have a chronic joint pain preventing you from reaching your health and fitness potential? Current stem-cell research might be in your favour!
Stem cells (cells with the ability to become any tissue) are the building blocks of the human body. Much research has focused on their regenerative ability in difficult-to-heal injuries, such as joint damage. Many joint injuries involve cartilage, the rubbery substance that pads joints and stops the ends of bone painfully grating together. These injuries can prove to be complicated in their healing, as cartilage has a poor blood supply, so healing cells from the blood are often unable to access the damage.
Other common injuries causing joint pain involve tendons and ligaments, elastic tissue that also has a minimal blood supply. This means that treatment options are also limited, often making surgery the only choice. In many cases, surgery might not be a viable option, so patients are left in constant pain with limited range of movement. Studies into stem cell technologies have shown that they can regenerate cartilage, tendons, and ligaments, meaning they could potentially be used to repair and replace damaged tissues. This has led to stem cell therapy being a popular area of research, with some practitioners already offering it as a private treatment.
Stem cell therapy is not without its pitfalls. Finding a source of stem cells poses a major problem. As adults are fully grown, they have a limited supply of stem cells. These are often pre-destined to become other types of tissue, for example, the supply in the bone marrow which allows generation of new white blood cells. As the fate of these cells is predetermined, they are unable to form tissues that could repair joints.
Other sources for Stem Cells include fetal tissue, which poses ethical issues for many, and tissue from umbilical chords – which is hard to come by as it requires consent from the pregnant woman, and highly sought after for other more urgent injuries (including spinal).
Another problem with this method of harvesting cells is that they are not the patient’s own cells, so their body will most likely reject them. This means that patients have to be put on a lifetime regime of drugs to suppress their immune system, leaving them at risk of serious illness from what would ordinarily be simple infections, for example, the common cold.
However, there is a third option. Recent research has allowed the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells. These are cells that are generated from adult tissues in the lab. As almost any cell can be stimulated to revert to stem cell form, the patient’s own cells could be used, eliminating the risk of rejection. This method of generating stem cells is very new and is still in the infancy of its development. At present, this a technology is limited to use in the lab, and has not passed safety approval for use in human patients. However, it is likely in the future that this will be used as an effective treatment for joint injuries, and will hopefully be able to help many people with joint paint and injuries return to a normal quality of life and a regular exercise and fitness routine.
In the meantime, our Restorative Movement Classes help people with chronic pain, injury, and rehabilitation needs restore their range of motion and get back to regular exercise. If that’s something you need – contact us here to find out more.