As the global population ages, the prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) and joint disorders represent a major cause of disability and a significant public health burden. As current approaches for the management of OA focus on slowing the progression of disease, without repairing the underlying damage, novel treatments are necessary to improve outcomes. Over the past decade, autologous cell-based therapies using regenerative cells from fat or bone marrow have become a major focus of research into new approaches for the treatment of osteoarthritis and joint disorders. This review is intended to summarize findings in existing literature and identify gaps in knowledge that should be addressed in order to advance the field. We acknowledge that some findings may appear inconsistent, but show that apparent inconsistency in the literature may be attributable to variation in source of cells, stage of disease, method of delivery, follow-up time, evaluation method, and a number of other idiosyncrasies of individual studies. Still, a number of themes emerge from the data and some broader conclusions may be drawn that can be used to guide future studies. Ultimately, we conclude that there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating the safety of the autologous cell-based therapies. Furthermore, the data support the claim that regenerative cells are capable of reversing progression of OA. Regenerative cells, and especially those from adipose tissue, represent a promising new approach for the treatment of OA. Future work should include appropriate controls, and focus on answering questions related to dose required, appropriate delivery vehicle, and the impact of multiple treatments. Additionally, future studies should look at short and long-term effects of the treatments, and use functional as well as radiologic methods to evaluate efficacy.
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