Stem Cells and Orthopaedics
Stem cells are basic human cells that have potential to give rise to many different cell types in the body. They are simple or undifferentiated cells.
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Stem cells help to create new cells in existing healthy tissues and may help to repair tissues in those structures that are injured or damaged. They are the basis for the specific cell types that makes up each organ in the body.
When stem cells divide they create progenitor cells. Unlike stem cells, progenitor cells can become cells with more specialized functions, such as brain cells, red blood cells or – of particular interest to orthopaedic surgeons—components of specialized tissue such as bone or cartilage.
Orthopaedic surgeons have focused their attention on mesenchymal stem cells. Unlike embryonal stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells are obtained from living adult tissue.
Bone marrow stromal cells are mesenchymal stem cells that, in the proper environment, can differentiate into cells that are part of the musculoskeletal system. They can help to form trabecular bone, tendon, articular cartilage, ligaments and part of the bone marrow.
At this point, stem cell procedures in orthopaedics are still at an experimental stage. Most procedures are performed at research centers as part of controlled clinical trials.
Stem cell procedures are being used for treating bone fractures and nonunions, regenerating articular cartilage in arthritic joints, healing ligaments or tendons, and replacing degenerative vertebral disks.
It is expected, however, that as more knowledge of tissue engineering is obtained, stem cell procedures will become more common.