As stem cell treatments shift from technology of the future to current healthcare option, patients with mobility issues are experiencing new hope. From those with arthritis and paralysis to patients with rare genetic conditions, stem cells represent potential healing, mending an array of tissues and restoring key functions.
Stem Cells For Common Conditions
Arthritis and degenerative joint diseases are extremely common, with 1 in 5 adults suffering some form of arthritis. Unfortunately, many modern treatment approaches, from anti-inflammatory medications to full joint replacements fail to relieve the pain. By injecting stem cells into the joint, however, the body can be induced to produce healthy cartilage to replace diseased tissue.
Individuals with arthritis and degenerative joint issues who undergo stem cell treatments, paired with physical and occupational therapy to increase strength and range of motion, can regain their independence and enjoy a better quality of life. Improvements gained from stem cell therapy are substantial even in comparison to total knee replacement surgery, and with total knee replacement surgeries estimated to reach 4 million annually by 2030, using stem cells to reduce knee pain – as well as arthritis in various other joints – could also minimize the ongoing risks of invasive surgery. And it’s thanks to the blank slate provided by stem cells.
Restoring Muscle And Motion
While stem cell treatments promise to transform the lives of millions of people with arthritis and similarly common conditions, part of what’s so remarkable about stem cells is their potential to restore mobility to paralyzed individuals and regenerate muscle cells in individuals with rare diseases.
Animal studies even suggest that stem cells could be a potential treatment for spina bifida, a congenital neural tube defect that results in improper development of central nervous system structures. Though it ranges in severity, those born with certain forms of spina bifida may suffer from paralysis due to spinal injury caused before birth or during the surgical repair process.
In addition to treating spina bifida, stem cells could potentially be used in a biodegradable scaffold to treat patients with spinal lesions and other forms of paralysis. Though still in the trial phase, these types of scaffolds are being used throughout the body to help restore function while supporting damaged tissues.
Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, stem cells are being used to restore muscle fibers in rare diseases. As rare diseases are often medical orphans – meaning they don’t receive research attention and may lack medications or even funding – any progress towards improved care is met with great interest. That’s currently the case with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, the most common inherited neurological disorder.
CMT affects about 250,000 people in the United States and typically strikes in adolescence or early adulthood, damaging the peripheral nervous system and impairing movement of the arms and legs. Combined with their ability to repair nerve cells, new studies into the development of muscle progenitor cells from stem cells suggest a potential treatment for CMT, muscular dystrophies, and other related diseases.
For decades, patients have lived with subpar treatments, all while the promise of stem cells and their ability to differentiate into a wide variety of forms remained a far-off hope.
Now, innovations in medical science have placed that hope within reach. This is the cusp of a medical revolution and a time to watch closely as improved treatments are just around the bend.