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Meniscal Tears Get a Leg Up From Stem Cells

Posted on October 27, 2017

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A revolutionary “living bandage” made from stem cells may make treating meniscus tears much easier. The stem cell bandage, called the Cell Bandage, was designed and tested on humans by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Bristol.

The meniscus is a small piece of cartilage that serves as a cushion in the knee between the femur on the thigh and the tibia in the shin. Meniscal tears affect over 1 million people a year in the U.S. and Europe. Tears of the meniscus are widespread among professional athletes, but they can also develop as a result of trauma and overuse.

More About Meniscal Tears

The majority of meniscal tears occur in the white zone, the innermost area of the meniscus. The white zone has little to no blood supply.

The lack of blood supply to the meniscus makes the healing process long, if not impossible, because the damaged area does not receive the oxygen and other nutrients necessary for the healing process.

Tearing the meniscus is often very painful, and symptoms include swelling, stiffness, loss of motion and the inability to straighten the knee.

Dr. Joel Singer, M.D. is a New York doctor who treats patients with knee and other joint injuries using stem cell therapy.

“Using stem cells gives a significant healing boost to areas of the body that have a low blood supply that delays healing,” Singer said.

A Living Bandage

The English study involved five people between the ages of 18 and 45 who had meniscal tears in the white zone. Researchers took stem cells from each patient’s bone marrow and cultivated them for two weeks. After 15 days, researchers wove the bone marrow stem cells onto a membrane bridge that delivers the stem cells.

The Cell Bandage was then surgically placed in the middle of the torn meniscus and attached to the cartilage of the knee with stitches.

Twelve months after receiving the cell bandage, all five of the study participants had an intact meniscus. Two years after the procedure, three of the five still had their intact meniscus and were able to return to normal knee function and activity. The other two participants had their meniscus surgically removed because of a new tear or the return of uncomfortable symptoms. The surgical removal of the meniscus means pain, a long recovery and physical therapy. It also means the risk of infection.

“Removing the meniscus means that the bones in the knee joint make contact and wear down over time, causing painful osteoarthritis to develop. If stem cell therapy can heal the damaged cartilage, patients can keep the meniscus and have less pain and stay mobile,” Singer said.

Treating Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, a painful joint condition that affects over 27 million Americans, can also be treated with stem cell therapy.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage and synovial fluid that cushion the bones of the joint wear away. When this happens, the bones make contact when the joint moves.

“Stem cells are very beneficial for treating osteoarthritis and connective tissue damage because stem cells have the powerful ability to heal damaged joints by repairing cartilage and bone that has worn away,” Singer said.

Instead of bone marrow stem cells to heal joints, Singer uses stem cells taken from adipose fat.

“Adipose fat stem cells are ideal for treating osteoarthritis and other damaged tissues because they are usually abundant in areas like the thighs or abdomen, so they do not have to be cultured before being used, unlike therapies that use bone marrow stem cells,” Singer said.

Singer harvests the stem cells through liposuction and then returns them to the patient intravenously or by injection.

“On average, patients see improvements in their condition, reduced pain and improved mobility within two to three months after their procedure,” Singer said.

Sources:

The Smithsonian. Tear Your Meniscus? This “Living Bandage” May Help. 10 January 2017.

 

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