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Stem Cell Therapy Could Prevent Injury-Induced Arthritis

Injuring a joint greatly raises the odds of getting a form of osteoarthritis called post-traumatic arthritis, or PTA. There are no therapies yet that modify or slow its progression. But the researchers used mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat mice with fractures that typically lead to PTA.

They wanted to test their theory that the MSCs, which can differentiate into a variety of cell types, would prevent PTA by altering the balance of inflammation and regeneration in knee joints. So they injected mice in one test group with 10,000 stem cells while a control group received saline.

"The stem cells were able to prevent post-traumatic arthritis," said Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., director of orthopaedic research at Duke and senior author of the study, which was published Aug. 10 in Cell Transplantation.

Brian Diekman, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Guilak's lab and lead author in the study, added that the team looked at markers of inflammation and saw that the stem cells affected the inflammatory environment of the joint after fracture. "The stem cells changed the levels of certain immune factors, called cytokines, and altered the bone healing response," he said.

One of the challenges the researchers faced was isolating and developing a system for sorting the MSCs. But by placing the stem cells into low-oxygen conditions, they grew more rapidly in culture and produced enough to make a difference therapeutically.

The researchers also thought that a type of mice bred for their super-healing properties would probably fare better than typical mice, but they were wrong.

"We decided to investigate two therapies for the study," Diekman said. "... We thought that maybe it would take stem cells from superhealers to gain an effect as strong as preventing arthritis after a fracture, but we were surprised — and excited — to learn that regular stem cells work just as well."

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