How Do Stem Cells Work In The Joints?
Stem Cell therapy is about the renewal of tissues. The treatment is based on the fact that stem cells differentiate to renew cells. The desired goal is to stimulate the production of new cells in a particular tissue to regenerate that tissue. For orthopedic applications the object is to target cells called chondrocytes. Differentiation of multipotent mesenchymal stem cells into chondrocytes stimulates repair processes of connective tissue.
New studies in animal models suggest that the stem cells may have another mechanism of action beside the differentiation into mature cells that produce new connective tissue. It seems that stem cells also secrete chemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties and shut down cells called macrophages that are responsible for the destruction of joint cartilage (this is called paracrine effects). These new studies in animal models show that a single administration of stem cells into an osteoarthritic joint induces suppression of inflammation, inhibiting the destruction of cartilage and the formation of osteophytes (new bone at the joint margins).
So, it seems that stem cells not only can differentiate into good cells (chondrocytes), but they can also inhibit the bad cells (macrophages). The end result is the prevention of damage to the cartilage, the repair of damaged cartilage, and a healthier joint.