Most Frequently Asked Questions About Stem Cells And Their Role In The Treatment Of Osteoarthritis

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types. Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources:

  Adult tissue (adult stem cells). Adult or somatic stem cells exist throughout the body. Their primary role is to repair or maintain the tissue in which they are found. 

 Embryonic stem cells. As the name suggests, these cells are derived from embryos.  Typically the embryos have been created through fertilisation procedures within the clinical laboratory. 


What is the controversy surrounding stem cells?

Adult stem cells are not surrounded by the same controversy as embryonic stem cells. Many groups who are against the use of embryonic stem cells, fully support the use of adult stem cells in the treatment of human disease.


What stem cells are used by Melbourne Stem Cell Centre?

Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells.  These cells are tissue specific and intimately involved in tissue repair and regeneration.


How are Stem Cells obtained/collected at MSCC?

Through a process called adipose tissue harvesting.  Each patients own fat tissue is collected by a medical clinician via mini-liposuction procedure. The procedure is minimally invasive and performed under local anaesthetic control, within a day procedure centre at MSCC.  The harvested tissue later undergoes further processing with the isolation and expansion of the stem cell population performed within an accredited laboratory. 


How long have stem cells been used to treat Osteoarthritis?

The use of stem cells in the clinical treatment if osteoarthritis is an exciting and only recent development.  Whilst we have excellent pre-clinical data – animal – on the use of stem cells in the treatment of Osteoarthritis, it has only been in the last year that we have had good evidence of the capability of stem cells to reverse changes of osteoarthritis in humans. 

Importantly all these trials used `pure’ isolated MSCs at a high dose – a technique that is unique to MSCC within Australia.


How advanced is Stem Cell Therapy in treating Osteoarthritis?

Stem cell therapy has been demonstrated to induce profound healing activity in animals with various forms of arthritis. Clinical trials in humans have shown an ability of MSC therapy to improve pain and function and excitedly have recently documented the ability of `pure’ high dose MSC therapies to reverse changes of osteoarthritis and to increase cartilage volume. 

For further information, please refer to Jo, CH., Lee, Y., et al. (2014). “ Intra-articular injection of mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: A proof of concept clinical trial.’ Stem Cells: Doi: 10.1002/stem.1634


Is the therapy safe?

Two recent systematic reviews of published clinical trials using MSCs have concluded that MSC therapy appears safe.

For comprehensive information on these trials, please refer to articles:

Lalu, ML., McIntyre, L., et al. (2012) “ Safety of cell therapy with mesenchymal stromal cells (safe cell): A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials”, PLOS One; 7(10), open access e47559

Peeters, CM., Leijs, MJ., et al. (2013) “Safety of intra-articular cell-therapy with culture-expanded stem cells in humans: a systematic literature review” Osteo Cartilage; 21(10): 1465-1473.