Regenerative Cells: A Possible Treatment for Arthritis


As the body ages, individuals want to stay active and maintain a healthy pain-free lifestyle. Can regenerative cells for arthritis and cartilage damage be the future of neuromusculoskeletal medicine and joint healing?

Regenerative Cells For Arthritis and Cartilage Damage

Individuals want to continue to do the physical activities they love, which require healthy joints. Scientists are learning how to harness the abilities of regenerative cells to repair and regrow damaged and deteriorated cartilage. Current stem cell treatment of cartilage problems has not been shown to reverse the effects of arthritis and while studies show clinical improvement, further research is necessary. (Bryan M. Saltzman, et al., 2016)

Cartilage and How It Gets Damaged

Cartilage is a type of connective tissue. In the joints, there are a few types of cartilage. The most commonly referred to is the smooth lining known as articular or hyaline cartilage. This type forms a smooth layer of cushion on the end of a bone at the joint. (Rocky S. Tuan, et al., 2013)

  • The tissue is very strong and has the ability to compress and absorb energy.
  • It is very smooth allowing a joint to glide effortlessly through a limb’s range of motion.
  • When joint cartilage is damaged, the cushioning can wear down.
  • In traumatic injuries, a sudden force can cause the cartilage to break off and/or suffer damage, that exposes the underlying bone.
  • In osteoarthritis – degenerative or wear-and-tear arthritis,  the smooth layer can wear down thin and unevenly.
  • Eventually, the cushion wears away, the joints become inflamed and swollen and movements become stiff and painful.

There are treatments for arthritis and cartilage damage, but these treatments are usually focused on relieving symptoms by smoothing down the damaged cartilage or replacing the joint surface with an artificial implant, like knee replacement or hip replacement surgeries. (Robert F. LaPrade, et al., 2016)

Regenerative Cells

Regenerative stem cells are special cells that have the ability to multiply and develop into different types of tissue. In an orthopedic surgery setting for joint problems, stem cells are obtained from adult stem cell primary sources which are bone marrow and fatty tissue. These cells have the ability to develop into cartilage cells, called chondrocytes. (Rocky S. Tuan, et al., 2013)

  • They also help by stimulating the body to reduce inflammation, stimulate cell repair, and improve blood circulation.
  • This process is caused by cellular signals and growth factors to stimulate the body to activate the healing processes.
  • Once stem cells have been obtained, they need to be delivered to the area of cartilage damage.

Cartilage is a complex tissue that is described as a scaffold structure that is composed of collagen, proteoglycans, water, and cells. (Rocky S. Tuan, et al., 2013)

  • To regenerate cartilage, the complex tissues must also be reconstructed.
  • There are studies on types of tissue scaffolds engineered to recreate a similar type of cartilage structure.
  • The stem cells can then be injected into the scaffold, in hopes of restoring a normal type of cartilage.

Non-Surgical Arthritis Treatments

Standard treatments such as cortisone shots or physical therapies work as well and provide benefits that could be utilized in combination with regenerative cells for arthritis and cartilage damage in the near future. Data takes time and therefore how this impacts the long-term health of a joint needs continued research in terms of tissue engineering and cell delivery to determine the best approach to help individuals.



LaPrade, R. F., Dragoo, J. L., Koh, J. L., Murray, I. R., Geeslin, A. G., & Chu, C. R. (2016). AAOS Research Symposium Updates and Consensus: Biologic Treatment of Orthopaedic Injuries. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 24(7), e62–e78.

Saltzman, B. M., Kuhns, B. D., Weber, A. E., Yanke, A., & Nho, S. J. (2016). Stem Cells in Orthopedics: A Comprehensive Guide for the General Orthopedist. American journal of orthopedics (Belle Mead, N.J.), 45(5), 280–326.

Tuan, R. S., Chen, A. F., & Klatt, B. A. (2013). Cartilage regeneration. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 21(5), 303–311.

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The information herein on "Regenerative Cells: A Possible Treatment for Arthritis" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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