Osteoarthritis (OA) tops the list of joint diseases by number of affected people globally. In the UK, this number exceeds 8.7 million. The pain and stiffness associated with OA are the result of cartilage wearing away and no treatment is available at present to stop the progression of the disease. A research team from the University of York is hoping to change that through a project focused on stem cell rejuvenation.
With funding supplied by Arthritis Research UK, the scientists will dedicate three years to their study. They will seek to determine whether rejuvenated stem cells from older OA patients are capable of repairing worn or damaged cartilage and thus alleviate chronic pain.
The stem cells from a patient´s bone marrow have great potential as a source of treatment because there is no danger of rejection when the joint tissue they have generated is re-implanted. But as people age, the number of stem cells diminishes and the ones that are left do not have the same capacity for tissue growth and repair.
Dr Paul Genever, who will lead the research project, said that rejuvenation is a recently discovered process and is more effective as a way of repairing tissue. Genever´s team will start by comparing rejuvenated and non-rejuvenated stem cells to determine whether the process delivers benefits for cartilage repair. The next step will be to explore possibilities for developing new drugs capable of stem cell rejuvenation. According to Professor Alan Silman, medical director at Arthritis Research UK, this is “pioneering research” with the potential to deliver great benefits to OA sufferers: their quality of life would improve as a result of reduced pain and disability.