Dr Holden Comments on Stem Cell Research for Osteoarthritis - Arthritis Action

Dr Holden Comments on Stem Cell Research for Osteoarthritis

12 December 2023

Is stem cell research the answer to curing osteoarthritis?  Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor Dr Wendy Holden responds.

A recent study by researchers in Adelaide, Australia has caught the attention of many medical professionals and patients alike with its promise of potentially curing osteoarthritis. The study, published in Nature, discovered a type of stem cell that can divide and make new tissue in cartilage. When this is depleted it can lead to a loss of cartilage and cause osteoarthritis in the knees of mice. This loss of cartilage can be improved or prevented with the use of a substance called fibroblast growth factor 18 (FGF-18). The research authors have suggested that FGF-18 may be a promising therapy for human osteoarthritis in the future.

This is not the first study of FGF-18, there have been human studies of FGF-18 (also called sprifermin) published in 2021 notably this study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). The study highlighted that on MRI scans, patients who received two active doses did show significantly thicker knee cartilage at the end of the trial, than those who had received a placebo.

Dr Wendy Holden, commented “This was promising news, for the first time showing cartilage damage can be reversed by an injection.  However, patients found no improvement in their joint pain, stiffness and function emphasising that pain is complex and that loss of cartilage is not the only factor in osteoarthritis.”

 Dr Holden summarised both studies by saying “While new research in arthritis is always welcome, more work needs to be done to understand osteoarthritis. For now, self-management is the only evidence-based and safe treatment which will help people with to manage pain and disability.


You can read our recent response in the Daily Mail article published on 18 December.


For media enquiries, or to speak to our experts you can contact us by email at media@arthritisaction.org.uk