Patients with rheumatoid arthritis constantly suffer with joint pain, inflammation, and join destruction.  Rheumatoid arthritis is normally treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, many of which have profound side effects, or injected monoclonal antibodies that are unbelievably expensive and also have bad side effects.

Now stem cell treatments might give rheumatoid arthritis patients new hope.  Mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord blood can suppress inflammation and attenuate collagen-induced arthritis in animals.

Professor Zhan-guo Li and a team from Peking University People’s Hospital, China used mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat arthritis in an animal model of rheumatic arthritis.  Little is known about umbilical cord MSCs, and there has been no previous report about their use in the treatment of RA.  Nevertheless, MSCs can exert profoundly suppress the immune response.  and this encourages their use in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as RA.  At present, the most common source of MSCs has been bone marrow.  However, aspirating bone marrow is an invasive procedure and the number and the differentiation potential of bone marrow MSCs decrease with age. In contrast, the collection of umbilical cord MSCs does not require any invasive procedure.

The researchers took immune cells from rheumatoid arthritis patients and showed that the umbilical MSCs could suppress the cells’ proliferation, invasive behavior and inflammatory responses in culture.  Systemic infusion of the umbilical MSCs into mice was shown to significantly reduce the severity of collagen-induced arthritis.

Professor Li said, “RA imparts a massive burden on health services worldwide and none of the currently used agents reaches long term drug-free remission. Therefore, a new and more effective therapy for RA will be very welcome.”

The article is “Therapeutic potential of human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,” by Yanying Liu, et al., Arthritis Research & Therapy (in press).

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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).