Monday, June 6, 2011

Stem cells for damaged knees

I've always been fairly conservative in my response to those headlines in the the papers that talk of "stem cell breakthroughs", as if all of a sudden all the medical problems in the world are about to be resolved. As we should all now know, we need to take those headlines with a large pinch of salt: in fact a 15 to 20 year sized pinch of salt! But time is passing and stem cell research is now starting to appear in human clinical trials, and that means we are now getting closer to perhaps a 5 year time line: now that is exciting.

Being rather fond of the sporting life myself, and having damaged my knee playing touch rugby at an age when I should have been trying a more leisurely pursuit, I was delighted to see that knee cartilage treatment has at last reached the 21st century. Not that it hasn't been improving incrementally over the decades, but it still very much relies on surgical intervention, and that is often associated with premature arthritis in the affected joint. Many of the total knee replacements that I see now, are on joints that were treated by total menisectomy - complete removal of the damaged cartilage - around the time I started medicine some 40 years ago: and that means having major surgery at a time in life just when you didn't need it!
Courtesy of

Researchers at Bristol University in the UK have now received permission to start human trials on a special "meniscal bandage" that contains the patients own harvested stem cells, which are inserted into the knee joint to cover the torn knee cartilage: the trial is to last 5 years and will study the effectiveness and the safety of the procedure. If, as hoped, the trial is successful, then the implications are huge.  Europe and the US both report approximately 1 million cases each of meniscal damage each year, and over 80% of these are in people under the age of 50: the injury being a very common amongst many sporting codes such as football, Aussie rules, rugby and basketball. If the Stem Cell therapy lives up to its potential, then that means much reduced pain and suffering later in life, plus a reduced need for major joint replacement.
For all of you currently living with "dodgy" knees, then the best advice I can give you is to befriend a good sports physiotherapist, and take their wise counsel! I throw the floor open to suggestions!
Ampersands & angle brackets need to be encoded.

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