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Stem cell test for joints condition

A stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis could lead to treatments that avoid the need for joint replacement surgery.

The year-long therapy, to be tested on patients for the first time in the UK, will use stem cells taken from bone marrow to repair worn knee cartilage.

Arthritis Research UK is funding the trial, in which up to 70 people with established knee osteoarthritis will participate.

It is being launched at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire, before the end of this year. The trial is part of a £500,000 five-year research programme.

Osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated eight million people in the UK, is caused by progressive wear-and-tear to the surface of the joints, leading to stiffness and pain.

In severe cases the joints have to be replaced with artificial implants.

Each year around 60,000 hip replacements and about the same number of knee replacements are performed in the UK, almost all due to osteoarthritis.

The disease accounts for most of the estimated £5.7bn a year economic cost to Britain of musculoskeletal conditions.

Stem cell therapy offers the hope of "rebuilding" joints using an arthritic patient's own immune system-friendly cells.

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Department of Health