A team of researchers recently announced that they have developed a medication containing stem cells that could fight the effects of inflammation in people suffering from arthritis. This technique could, according to the researchers, eventually lead to the development of a vaccine to help those suffering from not only arthritis, but other chronic illnesses as well.
The researchers altered stem cells found in mice, turning them into what are known as SMART (Stem cells Modified for Autonomous Regenerative Therapy) cells. These cells, according to the researchers, can be used in place of cartilage that has become arthritic. They can also be used to protect healthy tissues and joints from inflammation.
The team consists of scientists from Duke University, St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine, Cytex Therapeutics, Inc. and the St. Louis Shriners Hospitals for Children. They announced their findings in April 2017. According to the announcement, the team first harvested skin cells from mice tails and converted them into stem cells. They then used a technological tool known as CRISPR to remove a gene associated with inflammation, replacing it with a gene that has anti-inflammatory properties.1
The researchers’ ultimate goal is to eventually package these “rewired” cells into a vaccine that would only deliver anti-inflammatory medicine when an arthritic joint needs it.
How the Potential Vaccine Will Differ from Conventional Arthritis Medications
There are several drugs on the market, such as Humira, Remicade, and Enbrel, that attack a particular molecule known as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF-alpha. This molecule helps to promote inflammation, which is a very important defense mechanism against several diseases. But in people suffering from arthritis, TNF-alpha can lead to excruciating pain.
However, these medications aren’t targeted to specific joints – rather, they are administered in a systematic fashion. As a result, they can lead to severe infections and negatively affect a patient’s immune system.
The researchers said they want to be able to deliver targeted relief to inflamed joints without interfering with the body’s overall inflammatory response. The SMART cells are designed to only block inflammation in an affected joint by inhibiting the production of TNF-alpha in that specific area.
The team recently started testing the SMART cells in mice suffering from not only rheumatoid arthritis but also other inflammatory conditions. If this approach proves successful, the next step will be to perform a clinical trial involving humans. It could eventually be used to help treat other diseases as well. For example, SMART cells could be used to detect glucose in diabetics and stimulate the production of insulin.2
Alternative Therapies for Arthritis Pain
While we still have a long way to go before SMART cells can be used to treat arthritis in humans, there are many alternative therapies available to people who don’t want to use conventional medications. According to the Arthritis Foundation, scientists studied more than 20 alternative approaches to see if they were effective in treating the pain associated with conditions such as lower back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.3 The researchers found that the most effective alternative therapies include acupuncture, massage, yoga, and tai chi.
The researchers scored each therapy on a five-point scale. Those scoring a 1 showed little evidence of effectiveness, while a 5 meant that several scientifically valid trials showed that the therapies not only reduced pain, but also improved quality of life. Here are the results for the therapies mentioned above:
· Acupuncture –
This therapy scored a 5 for people suffering from lower back pain and osteoarthritis, and a 4 for fibromyalgia sufferers. According to the Arthritis Foundation, acupuncture has been proven to be so effective that the researchers question whether it should even continue to be viewed as an alternative therapy.
· Massage –
The researchers gave massage a 5 for treating lower back pain as well as fibromyalgia. They looked at 50 trials that involved more than 3,000 people suffering from fibromyalgia, and 75 studies involving more than 11,000 lower back pain sufferers.
· Tai Chi –
Tai chi scored a 4 for osteoarthritis and a 3 for fibromyalgia.
· Yoga –
This approach earned a 4 for lower back pain.
There were several other therapies, however, that were found by the researchers to be lacking in effectiveness. These included magnet therapy, reflexology, aromatherapy, copper bracelets, music therapy, biofeedback, meditation, and several others.