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Juvenile Cells Versus Stem Cells

Jun 25, 2015

Scientists have proven that juvenile chondrocyte cells are, in many ways, more efficient at repairing cartilage than stem cells.

In the quest to develop new treatments for cartilage injury, the use of specific cells to repair defects has attracted considerable research interest. Several types of cells are currently under investigation, including embryonic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells and juvenile chondrocytes.

When articular cartilage within joints is damaged, such as from sports injuries or osteoarthritis, the body has a limited ability to heal itself.1

The natural repair process does not result in normal hyaline cartilage. Instead, while the new tissue has some similarities to the original hyaline cartilage, its composition is more like fibrous cartilage, and it doesn’t have the same biomechanical capability. The repair tends to break down over time, and the defect can grow in size.2

A recent animal study found evidence of the usefulness of human embryonic stem cells in repairing damaged knee cartilage. Rats with osteoarthritis-like damage received implants of chondroprogenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, and by 12 weeks the joints appeared to contain smooth, normal cartilage.3

This study didn’t find evidence of tumor growth in the animals. However, the use of embryonic stem cells is associated with a risk of teratoma and immune rejection. These cells also remain controversial due to ethical concerns over the use of human embryos as their source.2

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) may offer a number of advantages for repairing damaged cartilage. Along with a chondrogenic ability, they can also home in on injured sites and provide an immunomodulatory effect. Although they were originally isolated from bone marrow, they appear to be available in even higher numbers in adipose tissue, which can be harvested from patients with less discomfort.4

However, researchers have noted some concerns about the use of MSCs. These may have the potential for overgrowth, leading the cartilage tissue to ossify. Some research has also noted that cartilage tissue resulting from MSC transplants was excessively thin.4

Another option may be to use chondrocytes taken from donors who are preadolescent or younger. A 2015 study featured different types of chondrocytes that were cultured in hydrogels for three or six weeks.5

At both points, juvenile chondrocytes had higher upregulation of chondrogenic gene expression compared to adult chondrocytes. They also showed a high level of three components found in hyaline cartilage: aggrecan, type II collagen and glycosaminoglycan.5

Earlier research from 2010 found that juvenile allogenic chondrocytes are “amenable to large-scale manufacturing and display an inherent enhanced ability to synthesize cartilage matrix when compared to adult chondrocytes.”6

ISTO, a St. Louis-based orthobiologics company, plays an important role in researching and developing new treatments for bone and cartilage injury.

1 Critical Reviews in Biomedical Engineering, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3146065/
2 Stem Cells Cloning, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897321/
3 Stem Cells Translational Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214847/
4 World Journal of Stem Cells, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4131275/
5 Tissue Engineering. Part A, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25054343
6 American Journal of Sports Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774103/

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