Stem cells could offer relief from arthritis pain


Former state politician John Lunsford gave speeches, shook hands and pounded the pavement for 11 years. It all took a toll on his body.

"I was taking about 16 ibuprofen a day, and sometimes I'd take two naproxen in the morning and two at night," said Lunsford.

He was suffering from osteoarthritis, and doctors said his only solution was surgery.

"The first one told me I would need a total hip replacement," recalled Lunsford. "So, I went to get a second opinion, and he told me I needed a total hip replacement."

Then he found the next evolution in regenerative medicine -- using stem cells to target inflammatory and pain pathways.

"They change the pain pathway so it's no longer as painful," said Dr. R. Amadeus Mason, M.D., an assistant professor in the Orthopaedics and Family Medicine departments at Emory University. "They change the inflammatory pathways in that you don't have as much inflammation being produced and in turn not as much pain."

Emory orthopedic specialists take the stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow, process them and inject them back into the patient's joint, causing the pain to go away.

"We have also seen regeneration of cartilage," said Mason.

Patients are able to walk or drive immediately after the procedure and should experience significant overall improvement within six weeks.

"The implant was a little intense for a few seconds, (but) nothing you couldn't deal with. A whole lot less than a root canal," said Lunsford.

Out of 50 patients, only one needed surgery.

"We basically turbo charged that site to heal itself and so far so good," said Lunsford.

Right now, stem cell injections are being used mainly in the larger joints, including knees, hips and shoulders. But because this treatment is so new, doctors don't know how long it will last.

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