Scientists at NUI Galway have achieved positive early stage results from a study looking at a possible treatment for osteoarthritis using stem cells.

Researchers at the Regenerative Medicine Institute said the results indicate that the treatment could be ready for use in patients within five years.

Osteoarthritis affects more than 400,000 people in Ireland, and 70 million across the EU.

The disease causes the painful degeneration of cartilage in joints and is the most common form of arthritis.

The NUI Galway team is part of an EU funded project involving partners in seven countries, which is examining whether stem cell therapy can help treat osteoarthritis by regenerating joints.

The group is testing stem cells derived from fat, which is injected into joints.

Fat stem cells are considered a good alternative to bone-marrow derived stem cells, as they are available in large quantities and can be harvested using minimally invasive techniques.

The scientists, who are involved in the €10m EU funded ADIPOA project, have just completed first phase clinical trials which sought to determine how adipose or fat-derived stem cells injected into diseased joints can activate the regeneration of cartilage.

According to Scientific Director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute, Professor Frank Barry, if the treatment continues to show promise it could eventually lead to a cure for osteoarthritis.

Currently the only options for sufferers are joint replacement or life-long pain management.