Researchers at Cardiff University have zeroed in on bone stem cells that may one day replace damaged cartilage in osteoarthritis.
Headed by Professor Charlie Archer from the Cardiff School of Biosciences, the research team has identified stem cells within articular cartilage of adults, which despite being unable to develop into any cell in the body like full stem cells, can successfully derive into chondrocytes, the cells that make up the body's cartilage.
Developing a treatment for osteoarthritis may be soon a reality, as the transformation into chondrocytes occurs in such high numbers. In fact, the team has even identified the cells in people over 75 years of age.
Osteoarthritis occurs when changes in the make up of the body's cartilage causes joints to fail to work properly, leading to severe pain and deformation of the joint.
The current treatment involves harvesting cartilage cells from neighbouring healthy cartilage and transplanting them into the damaged area, but this also results in generation of only a limited number of cells.
In this study, the researchers identified a progenitor, or a partially derived stem cell in bovine cartilage that can be turned into a chondrocyte in culture. However, they hit the breakpoint when they identified a similar cell in human cartilage that was more like a stem cell with characteristics that made it useful to treat cartilage lesions due to trauma but also mark the onset of osteoarthritis
"We have identified a cell which when grown in the lab can produce enough of a person's own cartilage that it could be effectively transplanted. There are limitations in trying to transplant a patient's existing cartilage cells but by culturing it from a resident stem cell we believe we can overcome this limitation," said Archer.
He added: "This research could have real benefits for arthritis sufferers and especially younger active patients with cartilage lesions that can progress to whole scale osteoarthritis."
The study was presented at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Edinburgh.