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Stem Cells Might Beat Drugs in Delivering Relief Faster, More Effectively to Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

Durham, NC (PRWEB) April 16, 2013

Can stem cell therapy outperform a drug commonly considered the gold standard for treating rheumatoid arthritis? A new study in rodents published in the current issue of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine indicates perhaps so.

The findings could lead to a faster, safer, more effective way to bring relief to the up to 70 million people estimated to suffer from this disease worldwide.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion and function of many joints. While it can affect any joint, RA tends to settle mainly in a patient’s hands and feet. The results can be debilitating.

People who have RA overproduce a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which causes the inflammation and damage to the bones, cartilage and tissue. Anti-TNF drugs can block the action of the protein and reduce inflammation. Etanercept® (marketed under the trade name Enbrel) is a type of anti-TNF drug called a biologic that for years has been prescribed to treat RA. However, it can’t be targeted specifically to the site of the arthritis and, thus, requires higher doses that can cause serious side effects including fatal infections, multiple sclerosis, seizures, heart failure, cancer and more.

“Moreover, biologics in general require intense development and manufacturing processes that are challenging for reproducibility, even within the same company. So we wanted to see how delivering treatment through a very targeted system such as that which can be done using stem cells compared to a biologic drug such as Etanercept®,” said Joseph Mosca, Ph.D. He led the team of researchers from Osiris Therapeutics, Inc. Baltimore, Md., and the Novartis Research, Basel, Switzerland, in conducting the study.

The researchers began by genetically altering human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the lab to become vehicles for the cell-based anti-TNF delivery. They then injected the cells into mice that had been induced with RA and monitored them over a seven-day period, then compared the results to a group of animals treated with Etanercept®. The results showed that the anti-TNF therapy delivered by stem cells reversed or attenuated the arthritis inflammation on par with the Etanercept® — except that it did it faster.

“If this translates into fewer side-effects and/or lower compliance remains to be seen,” Dr. Mosca said. “In either case, these results illustrate the ability of stem cells to deliver proteins of therapeutic value and demonstrate their potential clinical utility in rheumatoid/osteoarthritis and other TNF-related diseases where anti-TNF biologic drugs have already shown promise.”

“The authors have shown the feasibility of a targeted approach to treatment using cells that are known to ‘home’ to damaged tissue,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The manuscript supports and demonstrates the potential of mesenchymal stem cells as a vehicle for cell-based gene delivery.”

The full article, “Comparison of Drug and Cell-Based Delivery—Engineered Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells Expressing Soluble Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor-II Prevent Arthritis in Mouse and Rat Animal Models,” can be accessed at

About STEM CELLS Translational Medicine: STEM CELLS TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE (SCTM), published by AlphaMed Press, is a monthly peer-reviewed publication dedicated to significantly advancing the clinical utilization of stem cell molecular and cellular biology. By bridging stem cell research and clinical trials, SCTM will help move applications of these critical investigations closer to accepted best practices.

About AlphaMed Press: Established in 1983, AlphaMed Press with offices in Durham, NC, San Francisco, CA, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, publishes two other internationally renowned peer-reviewed journals: STEM CELLS® (, in its 31st year, is the world's first journal devoted to this fast paced field of research. The Oncologist® (, also a monthly peer-reviewed publication, entering its 18th year, is devoted to community and hospital-based oncologists and physicians entrusted with cancer patient care. All three journals are premier periodicals with globally recognized editorial boards dedicated to advancing knowledge and education in their focused disciplines.

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