Arthritis is a very common condition in Australia affecting people of all ages from all walks of life. While there are many strategies for lessening the symptoms, arthritis often significantly impacts the daily lives of sufferers. While arthritis is often referred to as a single disease, it is in fact an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions of the musculoskeletal system, specifically joints where two bones meet.
Arthritis-related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation, damage to joint cartilage and surrounding structures resulting in weakness, instability and deformities that interfere with the most basic daily tasks. Deloitte Access Economics found that arthritis costs the Australian economy $23 billion per year and there are 100 000 joint replacements annually. Arthritis has a major impact on the health budget and hospital waiting lists.
Dr Dan Bates and his colleagues at the Melbourne Stem Cell Centre have worked with Monash University to develop stem cell technology within the Therapeutic Goods Administration framework of the biological exemption. This technology allows for the use of the patient's own stem cells under the responsibility of the doctor for a single indication and single treatment course.
This model has also allowed for collection of human data and the two randomised trials looking at stem cells for osteoarthritis. These studies were funded by doctors that believe stem cell treatment will be an important part of the osteoarthritis solution. Early data from these randomised trials have shown significant decreases in pain, improved mobility, cessation of the degenerative process and in some cases cartilage regeneration.
This is a very new and exciting indication that stem cells are disease modifying, meaning they will hopefully stop the progression of osteoarthritis and result in significant decreases in the number of joint replacements, freeing up beds and decreasing hospital costs. I encourage federal and state governments to explore how they can support these outstanding doctors and their groundbreaking work.