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Could Stem Cell Treatment Improve Arthritis Symptoms?

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis—including aching joints, inability to engage in physical activities you once enjoyed, and whole-body fatigue—are uncomfortable and can dramatically impact your life. But new research shows that rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may be lessened, sometimes dramatically, through an infusion of stem cells.

What Are Stem Cells?

The term "stem cell" is used to identify a particular type of generic cell that can divide indefinitely into a variety of specific cells. In other words, stem cells in the kidney can divide into all the different types of cells required to make that organ. Researchers think that there is a genetic component to when stem cells in adults start dividing and which types of cells they eventually become. 

Stem cells are present in adults, but they are also found in human embryos. Basically, a few-days-old embryo is completely made of stem cells, or cells that have the ability to divide into just about any type of cell that makes up the human body, like organs, blood, and bone. However, use of embryonic stem cells in research is controversial. Almost all the research being done on arthritis uses adult stem cells to avoid this controversy.

How Do Stem Cells Help Alleviate Arthritis?

Arthritis is more than just a painful disease. Sufferers feel pain because their body is literally attacking their joints. This can spread to other areas; for example, a greater risk of heart disease is linked to arthritis.

There are drugs that can treat symptoms, but they may carry side effects. As well, many patients don't get relief from the medications over time. As many as one-third of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis can't handle the side effects or don't respond to the current medications on the market.

Stem cells—in many cases, ones which come from the patient's own body—can be applied to other areas to help encourage healing and reduce the improperly functioning immune system cells that are attacking other tissues. 

In one treatment that is now being tested, more than half of patients are seeing at least a 20 percent reduction in their symptoms. This specific treatment involves a one-time infusion of a specific type of stem cell known as mesenchymal precursor cells. Patients' own stem cells may be multiplied and then infused back into their bodies to help their immune systems function properly.

If you are suffering from arthritis, talk to your medical practitioner about arthritis treatments that may work for you. While much more work has to done before stem cells are routinely used to treat arthritis, you may be able to join a study or receive an experimental stem cell treatment. For more information, contact local professionals like Sarasota Arthritis Center.