Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints, the region of the skeleton where two bones meet. It is a common, chronic, and incurable disease. Cartilage, the connective tissue that creates a protective cushion at the ends of the bones, deteriorates with time, as do tendons and ligaments, and inflammation rises. OA may affect every joint, but the knees, hips, spine, and hands are the most often affected.
Multiple risk factors, such as advanced age, obesity, joint traumas, repetitive stress, and genetic susceptibility, all contribute to an increased risk of OA. Women are also more likely to get OA. The exact genes that affect OA are unclear, which restricts therapy choices significantly.
Many individuals don’t feel pain in the early stages of degeneration and don’t realise they have it until it’s widespread, irreversible, and evident on x-rays. Although there are treatments for managing OA, reducing discomfort, and keeping people active, OA cannot be cured.
What role do stem cells play in the study of osteoarthritis?
Scientists are still in the early phases of utilising stem cells to learn more about joint development and degeneration, as well as to look into novel therapies. Stem cells may be utilised to investigate how joint tissues develop naturally, simulate how cartilage (the connective tissue that protects joints) degrades, and try to create new cartilage tissue.
The fact that cartilage does not repair after birth is one of the research’s challenges. As a result, scientists must find out how cartilage is produced in the womb. Pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to become any cell in the body, are transformed into cartilage via factors discovered during embryonic joint development. Scientists may attempt to replicate the formation of joints during embryonic development by utilising cells in the lab to repair damaged cartilage or by stimulating cells in the patient to create new cartilage. Scientists are working hard to develop methods for repairing damaged joints and alleviating symptoms in a safe and efficient manner.
Stem cells are also used by scientists to simulate illness. Modeling OA may aid researchers in determining what goes wrong during joint deterioration and developing novel therapies to reverse it. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), a kind of pluripotent stem cell, may be made from cell samples from patients with OA. These iPS cells will contain the patient’s unique genetic composition and can be guided to produce cartilage that can be used to mimic OA, allowing researchers to better understand the disease’s genetic foundation and possibly lead to patient-specific therapies.