Jaw Bone Stem Cells Help Repair Damaged Cartilage
A new study from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reports that stem cells found within the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are capable of regenerating cartilage and repairing damaged joints. This research offers hope to the estimated 10 million Americans who suffer from TMJ pain — for which few treatments exist. The paper, “Exploiting Endogenous Fibrocartilage Stem Cells to Regenerate Cartilage and Repair Joint Injury,” published in Nature Communications, notes that a single cell transplanted into a mouse generated cartilage and bone. Stem cells already present in the joint are capable of being manipulated, the researchers explain, but because various types of cartilage cannot regrow or heal, tissue damaged via injury or disease can prove difficult to treat.
Stem cells have long been studied for regenerating cartilage, though prior research focused on donor stem cells, which bear risk of rejection. Utilizing a patient’s own stem cells eliminates this risk. In their investigation, the team utilized fibrocartilage stem cells (FCSCs) from the TMJ that grow and mature spontaneously. The researchers also identified the molecular signal Wnt that depletes FCSCs, resulting in cartilage degeneration. Through injection of the Wnt-blocking molecule sclerostin, however, degenerated TMJ cartilage was prompted to heal. An injectable drug with minimal side effects is now being studied for treating TMJ pain. The authors say the implications of this research are broad, as these finding may lead to new ways to treat bone and cartilage defects.