Intra-articular Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Systematic Review of Clinical Outcomes and Evidence of Cartilage Repair

Published:November 16, 2018DOI:


      To provide a systematic review of the clinical literature reporting the efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in terms of clinical outcomes including pain and function and cartilage repair in patients with osteoarthritis.


      We systematically reviewed any studies investigating clinical outcomes and cartilage repair after the clinical application of cell populations containing MSCs in human subjects with knee osteoarthritis through MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Web of Science, and Scopus. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were followed. Studies with a level of evidence of IV or V were excluded. Methodological quality was assessed using the Modified Coleman Methodology Score. Clinical outcomes were assessed using clinical scores, and cartilage repair was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging and second-look arthroscopy findings.


      A total of 17 studies that met the criteria of 50 full-text studies were included in this review, with 6 randomized controlled trials, 8 prospective observational studies, and 3 retrospective case-control studies. Among 17 studies, 8 studies used bone marrow–derived MSCs, 6 used adipose tissue–derived stromal vascular fraction, 2 used adipose tissue–derived MSCs, and 1 used umbilical cord blood–derived MSCs. All studies except 2 reported significantly better clinical outcomes in the MSC group or improved clinical outcomes at final follow-up. In terms of cartilage repair, 9 of 11 studies reported improvement of the cartilage state on magnetic resonance imaging, and 6 of 7 studies reported repaired tissue on second-look arthroscopy. The mean Modified Coleman Methodology Score was 55.5 ± 15.5 (range, 28-74).


      Intra-articular MSCs provide improvements in pain and function in knee osteoarthritis at short-term follow-up (<28 months) in many cases. Some efficacy has been shown of MSCs for cartilage repair in osteoarthritis; however, the evidence of efficacy of intra-articular MSCs on both clinical outcomes and cartilage repair remains limited.

      Level of Evidence

      Level III; systematic review of level I, II, and III studies.
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