Ask Dr. Hansen: How Soon Will Stem Cell Research Lead To New Medical Treatments?
Arthritis specialist Dr. Dane Hansen discusses the progress of stem cell research in developing new treatments for arthritis.
Arthritis is challenging to treat because it is a degenerative disease that progresses as our natural cartilage breaks down over time. Currently, no medical treatment can reverse this damage, but researchers are working to change this. Many hope that stem cell research holds the key to repairing and regrowing damaged cartilage. As a surgeon specializing in arthritic conditions of the knee and hip, Dr. Dane Hansen follows stem cell research closely.
The challenge: repairing damaged cartilage
“Arthritis can strike people of any age,” says Dr. Hansen. He explains that arthritis is tough to treat because damaged cartilage is not able to repair itself. “Patients slowly lose cartilage over time, and the causes are not fully understood. We don’t have any way to reverse arthritis. Our job is to treat the symptoms and offer injections, medication, physical therapy, and, as a last resort, surgery.”
“I want to help every patient I treat to live a healthy, active life—and I’d love to see research discover a treatment that could reverse the effects of arthritis. Unfortunately, it takes time to develop new treatments, and there aren’t as many advances as I would hope.”
The promise of stem cell research: cartilage regrowth
Some of the most promising studies involve the use of stem cells to promote new cartilage growth. “We don’t have a viable solution yet,” says Dr. Hansen, “but there are a lot of exciting reports coming from stem cell research.”
Dr. Hansen points to a study funded by the Arthritis Foundation. Scientists developed a way for stem cells to grow new cartilage on a laboratory scaffold structure shaped like a hip joint. Their success may be a first step toward avoiding or delaying joint replacements by repairing the cartilage in a damaged joint. One of the most interesting aspects of this study was that researchers were able to improve the regenerated cartilage. It was engineered to release anti-inflammatory proteins that could reduce inflammation, thereby better protecting the new cartilage.
The three stages of stem cell research
“Studies like this one are good examples of the promise of stem cell research,” says Dr. Hansen. “However, this research is still in the early stages. At each stage of research development, we want to make sure that we can safely replicate good results. After success in the laboratory come tests in laboratory animals. If animal tests are also successful, then we proceed to clinical trials with human study participants.
“With this particular Arthritis Foundation study, it will be three to five years before researchers move to human testing,” explains Dr. Hansen. “At Summit, we are monitoring promising new arthritis treatment options carefully. I believe the day will come when we have an expanded range of safe, exciting treatment options for arthritis. And as always, all of us at Summit will be dedicated to offering our arthritis patients the best care available.”
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