Stem cells are one of nature’s and your body’s best-kept secrets. These cells, which are found in multicellular organisms, not only have the ability to divide (by mitosis), but also to form various structures, such as cartilage and bone through a process called ‘differentiation’. Mr Fahad Gulam Attar is a leading orthpaedic surgeon and an expert in using stem cell therapy for treating knee arthritis.
What are stem cells?
There are two basic forms of stem cell – the embryonic stem cell and adult stem cells. Adult stem cells, which are also known as mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs, are of great interest to researchers, scientists and surgeons alike. At our clinic we use these MSCs. This gives us the ability to repair and regenerate tissues such as cartilage and bone more effectively.
How can stem cells be used to treat arthritis?
This can potentially be accomplished by the regeneration of cartilage (joint lining). In simple terms, the joint lining on the joint surface is the barrier to arthritis. Once this layer is damaged, the joint is likely to progress to arthritis, which presents as pain, stiffness and loss of function. Stem cell therapy may be used in an attempt to encourage regeneration of this joint lining cartilage layer. The procedure is designed to help preserve the natural surface of knee joints and perhaps delay or prevent the need for more major operations, such as knee replacement surgery.
Is stem cell treatment safe?
MSCs can be found at various locations in the body, including within the bone marrow, adipose tissue (fat) and peripheral blood. We favour the use of marrow-based or peripheral blood stem cells.
At my clinic, the stem cells are harvested autologously – directly from the patients. Consequently, there is no risk of disease transmission, rejection or ethical controversy that can exist using cells from an unrelated donor. All of us have a supply of MSCs in various tissues and these can be harvested using specialised techniques.
The procedure is completely safe and done routinely as a day case procedure and you will be in hospital for just a few hours.
Why is it important to manage arthritis from the early stages?
Once the cartilage gets damaged either due to injury or early arthritis, it needs to be addressed or repaired straight away. If not, there is progressive and worsening damage of the cartilage over time until the joint lining cartilage completely wears away, resulting in end-stage arthritis with bone on bone changes.
At end-stage arthritis, there are very few management options left apart from joint replacement surgery. Therefore, if you have joint pain and stiffness due to early deterioration of cartilage (in early stages of arthritis), it is best to intervene with stem cell therapy.
If you are concerned about the health of your joints, make an appointment with an expert.