At 62, Oscar Campanini expected some aches and pains in his joints, especially after his weekly pickup soccer game. But two years ago, the pain in his knees became so overwhelming he could barely walk. Because both knees had been surgically mended previously, doctors said he had two choices: periodic cortisone injections or total knee replacements.
“I wasn’t happy with either of those options,” he says.
On a visit to Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, he met with Shane Shapiro, M.D., who specializes in sports medicine and musculoskeletal pain. Dr. Shapiro told Campanini he was eligible for the first-ever randomized clinical trial exploring the safety of stem cells for arthritis.
Despite limited research, many types of stem cell injections are offered worldwide. But at Mayo Clinic, the first step was to conduct research.
“We weren’t comfortable offering this as a treatment to patients until we or someone else had studied it in a rigorous fashion,” Dr. Shapiro says.
Campanini entered the trial and received two injections: his own bone marrow-derived stem cells in one aching knee and a placebo of saline solution in the other.
Stem cell mystery
The results, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, showed the cells didn’t cause any serious problems for participants. But another finding surprised the researchers.
Patients reported pain relief in both knees ─ even the one that received only saline. The mysterious results appeared distinct from a placebo effect, Dr. Shapiro says, since patients were aware only one knee was receiving cells (they didn’t know which one). And while many patients found their aches eventually returned, the pain-free period lasted from a few months up to more than two years ─ longer than placebos would typically work.
“We’re still studying the mechanisms,” Dr. Shapiro says.
The study adds to a rapidly expanding field that takes a new approach to treating disease: restoring health by replacing, repairing or regrowing damaged or degenerating tissues in the body. Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.
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