Rather than conventional artificial joint replacements, patients with arthritis might be able to replace the damaged joints with joints grown from their stem cells. It may take some time before clinical trials can start, but we are optimistically hopeful.
For the first time, researchers successfully helped rabbits regrow an entire leg joint using their own stem cells. It is also the first time the fully regenerated joint has restored functioning, including weight bearing and locomotion.
In the study reported by the journal The Lancet in 2010, the researchers removed the upper forelimb joint (proximal humeral joint) of 10 rabbits and replaced with anatomically correct polyester and bone scaffolds. These scaffolds were infused with the transforming growth factor beta 3 (TGFB3) to attract bone and cartilage stem cells to the area and then grow into new cartilage and bone to form a new joint. Within three to four weeks, the rabbits resumed normal function and were able to walk and run around in the environment. In contrast, rabbits received the scaffolds without the growth factor were not able to move as well.
This amazing technique proved that it is not necessary to take stem cells out of the body and put them back in. The new joint was all regeneration by the body’s own (endogenous) stem cells.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) projects an over 600 percent spike in total-knee replacements and a 175 percent increase in first-time total-hip replacements by 2030, as the baby boomers reach their 60’s. Over 773,000 total hip and total knee replacements are performed each year within the US. By the year 2030, that number is projected to exceed 4 million, including patients below age 65 that represent 35-45% of all total joint arthroplasty recipients in the US.
Current artificial joints made of titanium or stainless steel only have a life span of 10 to 15 year. Therefore, patients may need follow-up surgery that will further decrease the life span of the implant. Although scientific and regulatory issues remain at this time, it is very possible that stem cell regeneration is the answer for the large number of patients who undergo joint replacement each year.
To read about the study, click here.
To learn more on joint replacement surgery, click here.