A stem cell being able to make cartilage and bone seems like a preposterous idea, does it not? With the invention of the microscope in the 1800’s, it was not long before scientists were able to discern that some cells were able to generate and change into other cells. This was the beginning of stem cell research. In 1961, Dr.’s Till and McCullough were studying the effects of radiation on the bone marrow of mice, when they discovered the existence of multipotent stem cells. In 1998, James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison isolated human embryonic stem cells, then demonstrated how they specialize and rejuvenate. His team derived stem cells through a process which destroyed human embryos; thus began an extended political and public debate as to the ethical and legal ramifications of this type of research. In 1996, Ian Wilmut et al successfully cloned a sheep named Dolly from a mammary gland of a donor. This proved that a whole individual could actually be cloned from just one cell. In 2001, Jose Cibelli, Robert Lanza, and Michael West successfully cloned the first human embryo in the lab.
The applications for generating cartilage and bone from stem cells apply directly to osteoarthritis, a degenerative arthritis or joint disease which is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis involves articular cartilage and subchondral bone in the joints. Articular cartilage is the hyaline cartilage covering found on the articulating surface of bones at the joint. Subchondral bone is the bone beneath the surface of that cartilage. Osteoarthritis is an inflammation in the joint involving the articular cartilage and the subchondral bone. This can be due to injury, disease, aging, or obesity and sometimes a combination of one or many of these factors. Once the articular cartilage becomes damaged, torn or worn away the subchondral layer beneath the cartilage begins to be damaged and with time it also disappears. The patient is left with a joint that, upon movement, leaves bone moving against bone. This is extremely painful and debilitating. At present, the only treatments available are rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, intra-articular glucocorticoid injections, physical therapy and bracing. There are no current treatments to restore articular cartilage (Wei, 2011). Eventually, joint replacement is inevitable. Stem cells may offer hope to osteoarthritis sufferers.
Stem cells are formative cells in embryology and are found in almost every living tissue (Rodrigues et. al., 2012). The applications for this technology are, quite simply, astounding. Stem cells are being researched for applications in all areas of medicine and disease. Bone marrow stem cell (BMSC) transplants have been used for over 40 years for various diseases and are considered the standard treatment for leukemia, lymphoma and some inherited blood disorders.
Scientists have discovered more than just one type of stem cell....