Disease Focus Series: Osteoarthritis research moving forward

About one in ten people around the world will develop osteoarthritis (OA) at some point in their lives. In the U.S., it is the major cause of disability. This is an extremely serious illness in terms of its impact on society.

At this time there is little in the way of effective treatments for OA. Most treatments are designed to reduce pain and enhance function, not address the actual underlying condition. One exception is join replacement surgery such as knee replacement.

OA is a disease of the joints, most often resulting from a degradation of cartilage.  It is distinct from rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about 1% of people across the globe.

One potential new mode of treatment for OA is stem cell-based transplants. Stem cell-based regenerative medicine seems highly promising for OA, perhaps also but less so for rheumatoid arthritis due to its autoimmune component (i.e., transplants may be attacked by the immune system, although immunosuppressant drugs given following an allotransplant could help).

Stem cell-based therapies for OA would involve transplanting cartilage cells derived from stem cells. For example, instead of a knee-replacement, a patient might receive an injection of chondrogenic progenitors/chondrocytes (cartilage making cells) that were derived from hESC.

Geron, the company conducting the world’s first hESC-based Phase I Clinical Trial for spinal cord injury, is also conducting research on joint repair using stem cells.  They announced a deal today with the University of Edinburgh for pursuing this line of research. Preclinical studies on the drug, GRNCHND1, sound very promising.

Another related line of research is to achieve the same goal using the patient’s own chondrocytes that were expanded in the lab.

Note: I am not a biotech investor