Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition in which the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. This abnormal immune response leads to inflammation, fluid buildup, swelling, and discomfort in the joints. RA is a chronic condition for which there is no cure, and due to the progressive nature of the disease, symptoms often worsen over time.
Current treatments for RA involve controlling the immune response to prevent further damage and alleviating joint pain. Yet, oftentimes, existing therapies fail to mitigate the damage joints have already sustained. Some research has been finding that there may be potential therapeutic effects with regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Stem Cell Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Stem cells are the building blocks of virtually all specialized cells and tissue in the body. They can transform into many different cell types, and have regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties. Medical researchers have been exploring ways to leverage these powerful cells to help manage symptoms for autoimmune conditions, including Rheumatoid Arthritis.
As the cartilage between bones becomes inflamed and wears away, the joint and surrounding bone can become damaged, too. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can develop into bone and cartilage tissue, and when isolated and injected into affected joints, could help repair damage caused by RA.
Since RA is an inflammatory disease, it can lead to health issues beyond joint damage. Systemic inflammation, fever, weight loss, muscle weakness, and diseases of the heart and lungs can also occur over time. For this reason, combatting the widespread inflammation that occurs with the disease is critically important. According to research, MSCs can control inflammation by increasing regulatory T cells (RTCs), which help to prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissue.
Additional study results have shown significantly lower levels of blood markers which indicate RA at one- and three-year intervals after stem cell therapy. In these trials, patients received intravenous infusions of MSCs to treat the systemic inflammation associated with RA. In addition to reduced body-wide inflammation, patients also experienced a reduction in symptoms and improvements in physical function.
Although there still has yet to be a definitive cure for RA, stem cell therapy has been researched as a potential option to:
Reduce joint inflammation and stiffness
Increase range of motion
Improve energy levels and reduce fatigue
Minimize joint pain and swelling
For patients interested in exploring new treatment options, MSCs may enhance a patient’s quality of life and alleviate some of the condition’s most debilitating symptoms. Contact a Care Coordinator today for a free assessment!
Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation of multiple joints throughout the body. This joint inflammation eventually causes the cartilage and bone to break down, and the tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints stretch and become deformed. Consequently, people with rheumatoid arthritis experience pain and loss of function in affected joints.
Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is not just a disease of joints. Rheumatoid arthritis also causes systemic inflammation. People with rheumatoid arthritis commonly experienced fevers, weight loss, and chronic fatigue. Many patients report being achy or stiff apart from joints directly affected by arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause bone loss, muscle weakness, skin lesions, and kidney disease. Patients may also experience lung, heart, and vascular diseases.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown; however, since it is an inflammatory disease, the main treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is an anti-inflammatory medication. Some lifestyle changes may help to ease some of the symptoms but most physicians initially recommend using a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug or DMARD soon after rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed. DMARDs can modestly reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and help reduce the risk of patients developing debilitating joint abnormalities. DMARDs include drugs such as methotrexate or biologics such as infliximab or tofacitinib. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis usually also must take glucocorticoids, i.e. steroids to acutely control inflammation. Unfortunately, these agents have considerable side effects, especially when taken for long periods of time. Moreover, the treatments are not curative. As such, researchers are still looking for better treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.
Scientists recently conducted a prospective Phase 1/2 study of umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They selected 64 patients with rheumatoid arthritis between the ages of 18 and 64. Volunteers received an intravenous infusion of mesenchymal stem cells and were followed for three years. At both the 1 and 3 years follow up appointments, the rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with mesenchymal stem cells had substantially lower levels of the blood markers that indicate rheumatoid arthritis (namely C-reactive protein, elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, rheumatoid factor, and anti-CCP antibody). The test of physical function also significantly improved at 1 and 3 years after stem cell treatment [Health Index (HAQ) and Joint Function Index (DAS28)]. The treatment was also safe, and no serious adverse effects were reported.
The results of this stem cell clinical trial are particularly remarkable because patients received only one intravenous treatment and enjoyed at least three years of improvement in their disease both in the blood markers but also in symptoms and physical functioning. Although not a cure, this study shows the apparent safety of mesenchymal stem cell treatment and the impressive benefits to allow patients to consider researching stem cell therapy as an alternative option for their rheumatoid arthritis symptom management. Indeed, if additional larger studies confirm these impressive results, umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell treatment may become a possible standard of care in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in the future.
Reference: Wang L, Huang S, Li S, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: A Prospective Phase I/II Study. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2019;13:4331-4340. Published 2019 Dec 19. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S225613
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect the joints, as well as several body systems. As an autoimmune disease, RA is characterized by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking its own healthy tissue. While other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, are caused by general wear and tear, RA targets the joint lining, resulting in swelling that will eventually erode the joints and bones.
In some cases, the inflammation can cause widespread damage throughout bodily systems such as the eyes, skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Although there have been treatments available to control the symptoms of RA, in some severe cases, physical disabilities may still occur.
Can Stem Cell Therapy Help Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Typically, RA is treated with immune suppressive medications such as steroids. While they may offer temporary relief, long-term use isn’t advised, as it can suppress the body’s immune response. Thus, such medications leave patients more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may be prescribed as well, or biologics if needed. Nonetheless, these medications fail to address joint damage which has already occurred. Moreover, many patients fail to see significant results.
Recently, stem cell therapy has emerged as a studied and researched option to target inflamed tissue and trigger the development and anti-inflammatory agents. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in particular, have been shown to produce T regulatory cells, which help to safeguard against the self-attacking immune response seen in RA. One study on MSCs for RA demonstrated a significant decrease in pro-inflammatory agents, absent of the long-term side effects caused by traditional RA therapies.
Which Type of Stem Cells Are Used to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?
MSCs are a commonly used stem cell therapy option for managing symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. These cells are derived from either adipose (fat) tissue from the patient or the umbilical cord (Wharton’s Jelly) following healthy births. The mothers undergo rigorous screening to ensure the safety of the cells. Because umbilical cord-derived stem cells are some of the youngest, they have longer cell lives than those derived from adults.
What Are the Benefits of Mesenchymal Stem Cells?
Since they are do not come from the blood, MSCs are considered safe and do not require phenotypic or Hyman Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matching. Cell rejection is therefore not a concern. Mesenchymal stem cells exert a number of beneficial effects on the cells of the immune system. Mesenchymal stem cells can help fine-tune the immune system by inducing the action of regulatory T-cells potentially shifting the balance from harmful to helpful immune system function.
The benefits of MSCs leave researchers optimistic about the future of stem cells as an option for those with autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. The therapy is a worthwhile option to explore for patients seeking potential improvements for their day to day quality of life. Contact a Care Coordinator today for a free assessment!
In a recent edition of JAMA, the results of a 30-year study examining the possible connection between stress and autoimmune disease were revealed. The findings don’t simply demonstrate a link; instead, they reveal that stress-related disorders are significantly associated with risks of developing the subsequent autoimmune disease. In the study of over 100,000 subjects, the correlation showed that individuals with a diagnosed stress-related disorder were 30-40% more likely to later be diagnosed with one of many possible autoimmune diseases.
What is a Stress-Related Disorder?
The type of stress study subjects encountered is not to be confused with the stressors we encounter during everyday life. Sitting in traffic or worrying about being late for a meeting, for example, are examples of acute stress. These forms of short-term stress generally come and go but fail to create the sort of long-term damage produced by chronic stress, or stress-related disorders.
Stress-related disorders are mental health conditions resulting from short- and long-term anxiety from mental, physical, or emotional stress. Examples of these include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress reaction, and adjustment disorder.
Which Types of Autoimmune Disorders Are Linked to Stress?
According to the study’s findings, individuals with stress-related disorders were more inclined to be diagnosed with one of 41 autoimmune disorders. Among the many autoimmune diseases observed by the research were psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease.
Interestingly, additional variables seemed to further increase – or decrease – one’s risks of developing an autoimmune disease. Being diagnosed with PTSD at a young age, for instance, increased risks, while receiving antidepressant treatment shortly after being diagnosed with PTSD lowered rates of subsequent autoimmune disease diagnosis. Thus, it could be inferred that receiving treatment for a stress-related disorder may help to treat not only the stress itself but also minimize the lasting implications caused by it, including increased risks of disease.
What Causes the Connection?
Further research must still be conducted to pinpoint the precise long-term effects stress has on the body, and more specifically, on the immune system. Experts speculate that factors such as changes in cortisol levels and pro-inflammatory cytokine levels may need to be examined. Another hypothesis set forth by researchers is that individuals living with conditions such as PTSD might be more inclined towards unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more alcohol or sleeping less.
Although further research into this connection has yet to be conducted, one important takeaway from the findings is the fact that seeking treatment for stress-related disorders should now be considered more critical than ever. By consulting mental health professionals, individuals living with these conditions can pursue a tailored treatment approach to support short- and long-term improvements in overall wellness. For those with an auto-immune condition, see how stem cell therapy may help your symptoms and improve quality of life.
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