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!

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