Osteoarthritis and stem cell therapy in humans: a systematic review

Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2018 Jun;26(6):711-729. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2018.02.906. Epub 2018 Mar 13.


Objective: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a leading cause of disability in the world. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been studied to treat OA. This review was performed to systematically assess the quality of literature and compare the procedural specifics surrounding MSC therapy for osteoarthritis.

Design: PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched for studies using MSCs for OA treatment (final search December 2017). Outcomes of interest included study evidence level, patient demographics, MSC protocol, treatment results and adverse events. Level I and II evidence articles were further analyzed.

Results: Sixty-one of 3,172 articles were identified. These studies treated 2,390 patients with osteoarthritis. Most used adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) (n = 29) or bone marrow-derived stem cells (BMSCs) (n = 30) though the preparation varied within group. 57% of the sixty-one studies were level IV evidence, leaving five level I and nine level II studies containing 288 patients to be further analyzed. Eight studies used BMSCs, five ADSCs and one peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs). The risk of bias in these studies showed five level I studies at low risk with seven level II at moderate and two at high risk.

Conclusion: While studies support the notion that MSC therapy has a positive effect on OA patients, there is limited high quality evidence and long-term follow-up. The present study summarizes the specifics of high level evidence studies and identifies a lack of consistency, including a diversity of MSC preparations, and thus a lack of reproducibility amongst these articles' methods.

Keywords: Level of evidence; Mesenchymal stem cells; Osteoarthritis; Stem cell therapy; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis / surgery*
  • Stem Cell Transplantation* / methods
  • Treatment Outcome