A chondrocyte is a cell that makes cartilage, if you can imagine a brick that secretes its own mortar and embeds itself in a wall of surrounding chondrocytes doing the same thing, that is what cartilage regeneration is.
There are many factors as to why you have degenerative joint osteoarthritis including past histories of arthroscopic surgery. The main factor however is that the osteoarthritic joint is degenerating faster than the body can fix it. The body’s healing response is inflammation. Inflammation will turn on and continue staying on until the joint is healed. But what if the joint does not heal because the injury is too severe for the body to heal on its own? Then the inflammatory mechanism will be stuck in the “open” position, chronic inflammation will continue trying to heal something it can’t.
The pharmaceutical industry has made billions and billions producing anti-inflammatories to try to get the inflammation to shut off. It is usually a fight to the end, the patient lives their lives on painkillers and anti-inflammatories or moves on to joint replacement surgery.
Nature’s way is for chondrocytes to repair damage and to signal the immune system to stop the inflammation. It does so by producing its own anti-inflammatory protection system for the new cartilage it is building. When the chondrocytes can neither complete repair or shut off the inflammation, the inflammatory loop creates a toxic environment in the joint filled with cells and chemicals that contribute to oxidative stress.
Stem cells do have the ability to change this toxic environment into a healing environment and this is what new research is trying to tackle.
In a new study, Dr. Ming Pei of West Virginia University suggests that while adult stem cells are a promising cell source for cartilage regeneration and that increasing evidence indicates that environmental preconditioning is a powerful approach in promoting stem cells’ ability to resist a harsh environment such as hypoxia (the lack of oxygen) and inflammation following surgery.1
In this study the idea is to get the stem cells ready to more efficiently heal by changing their conditioning and the joint environment by removing oxidative stress in the joint.
1 Pei M. Environmental preconditioning rejuvenates adult stem cells’ proliferation and chondrogenic potential. Biomaterials. 2017 Feb;117:10-23. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2016.11.049. Epub 2016 Nov 25.