Written by Mr Nima Heidari-Khabbaz for Doctify

Arthritis can be crippling. Depending on the type, it can come with age or injury and have an enormous impact on quality of life. Common treatments include NSAIDs, steriods and painkillers but these are only palliative. So far, there is no cure for arthritis.

The good news is, research is being done to improve the outcome of this condition. Stem cell therapy has had its controversies and detractors but Consultant Foot, Ankle and Limb Reconstruction Surgeon Mr Nima Heidari-Khabbaz is hopeful about its potential to repair some of the damage arthritis can cause.

What even are stem cells?

Our bodies have a natural ability to heal themselves, as anyone who has ever cut their finger will know. Around the world, scientists, researchers and doctors are looking for ways to use and encourage this natural process by applying stem cell science to improve health outcomes for patients. Stem cells are naturally occurring cells in your body with the capability to turn into a specific type of cell, promote repair, and regenerate damaged tissue. Not surprisingly perhaps, this new field of medical science is known as Regenerative Medicine or tissue engineering.  And it is already having quite an impact – restoring function, improving the quality of lives and, in some cases, even saving the lives of patients1.

What can stem cells be used to treat?

Amazingly, stem cell therapy is being used to treat a range of medical conditions including heart disease, some forms of cancer, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, hair loss, erectile dysfunction, and neurological conditions. Stem cell therapy is also being used in orthopaedics to treat pain and inflammation caused by wear and tear, injury, or disease, including arthritis – with some excellent results.

In some cases, stem cell therapy may be an alternative to surgery; in others, because it improves blood flow, it can speed up the healing process and so complement an orthopaedic surgical procedure. When tissues are damaged, or age, they take longer to repair. As the global population ages, and as more of us are troubled by joint problems linked to weight gain, any further advances made in this field are likely to be highly significant and beneficial.

Exciting on-going trials

However, as a relatively new form of treatment, orthopaedic procedures involving stem cell therapy have yet to be approved by all medical regulatory agencies around the world. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use in the USA and trials of various different stem cell techniques for use in orthopaedic procedures are on-going in the UK for example, including in my own practice.

Clinical results from 800 patients

Based on results from more than 800 patients worldwide, an injection of stem cells to treat knee, ankle, hip, and shoulder osteoarthritis resulted in a surprising improvement in symptoms2. After this injection, these patients generally reported a striking improvement in symptoms, knee function, and pain2. Some patients who were candidates for surgery/prosthesis no longer needed it because of the complete or substantial resolution of their symptoms2.

1. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Available at: https://www.aaos.org/AAOSNow/2012/Feb/research/research2/?ssopc=1. Accessed 14 June 2017.
2. Tremolada C, Colombo V, & Ventura C. Adipose Tissue and Mesenchymal Stem Cells: State of the Art and Lipogems® Technology Development. Curr Stem Cell Rep (2016) 2: 304. doi:10.1007/s40778-016-0053-5.



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