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New Treatment Potential for Osteoarthritis Revealed by USC Study

New stem cell research from the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine Stem Cell laboratory may mean new treatments for osteoarthritis.

More than 30 million Americans are living with arthritis, and more than 3 million individuals receive the diagnosis each year. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis diagnosed in the United States.

Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease and usually develops due to aging; however, it can occur as a result of injury and overuse, too.

"Many individuals with osteoarthritis can see symptoms in their 40s," said Dr. Bill Johnson, a Dallas, Texas, stem cell physician who treats people living with different forms of arthritis and musculoskeletal injuries with fat stem cell therapy.

Osteoarthritis develops when cartilage, the cushion found at the end of the bones, wears down, leaving the joints rubbing against each other.

The result is pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness.

"Over time, osteoarthritis will make moving difficult. Walking, going up the stairs and even turning a doorknob is painful," Johnson said.

The USC researchers on the stem cell project have discovered new information about how genetics affects cartilage development.

Their research revealed that unique cell groups make up the superficial zone of human joint cartilage. The superficial zone of the cartilage plays a vital role in cushioning the joints. The area of the cartilage is also essential to the strength and durability of the cartilage itself.

This area of cartilage is often damaged and sometimes completely lost as a result of osteoarthritis.

"Repetitive motion and the aging process take their toll on the joints, and as a result, cartilage begins to degrade," Johnson said.

The discovery of the unique cell populations in the superficial zone of the cartilage gives researchers a map of human skeletal development and lays out a clear strategy to repair damaged cartilage.

"The ability to regenerate lost cartilage is critical for reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis," Johnson said.

During the study, the USC researchers compared the genetic activity of human cartilage cells during development with the genetic activity of other types of cells, including developing bone cells, muscle cells, tendon cells and ligament cells.

These types of cells make up the primary structures that comprise the joints of the body.

During their comparison, the researchers noticed that the genes of the developing cartilage cells were more active as they matured than the genes of the other cell types, which became repressed when mature.

The next step of their research compared the human cartilage cells to the same type of cells in mice. They found similarities in cell behavior.

As part of their project, the researchers also compared regular cartilage cells and stem cell-derived cartilage cells. During this comparison, they analyzed both types of cells for genetics, genetic regulation and cell function.

Their research showed that stem cell-derived cartilage does not completely develop in a Petri dish. Instead, it keeps the genetic tendencies of fetal cartilage. They found that when transplanted into a rat with osteoarthritis, this stem-cell-related cartilage matured into superficial zone cartilage and discarded its fetal cell qualities.

"Stem cells have the ability to regenerate new, healthy tissues," Johnson said.

This ability, coupled with the fact that stem cells can regenerate without end, makes them a powerful tool in combating osteoarthritis and other forms of the disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic, progressive type of the painful joint condition caused when the body's immune system attacks the joints.


University of Southern California. "Osteoarthritis research effort works to understand cartilage development: Stem cell researchers and others outline a potential way to repair joint cartilage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 September 2018.

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