Stem cells have been used in new therapies to treat a wide range of diseases. Now, a new technique for using stem cell therapy for knee injuries has shown highly positive results.
In a recent trial, the new stem cell therapy for knee injuries showed positive results in five patients suffering from white zone meniscal tears – a knee injury that is particularly difficult to treat. When meniscal tears occur in the white zone, healing is hampered due to the poor blood supply in this area.
In athletes that suffer from this common knee injury, the decision is often taken to completely remove the meniscus, although that can lead to problems in later life. Osteoarthritis is common in patients that suffer from meniscal tears and have the tissue removed.
However, the new stem cell therapy for knee injuries could be a viable solution that could speed healing and prevent the need to remove the meniscus. Termed a ‘living bandage,’ the new technique, which was co-developed by biomedical researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Liverpool, uses undifferentiated mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that are harvested from the patient’s bone marrow.
The harvested MSCs are grown in the lab for two weeks before being seeded on a membrane scaffold. The scaffold is then surgically introduced close to the meniscal tear, with cartilage sewn around it. 12 months after the surgical procedure was performed, all five of the patients had an intact meniscus, with three patients having an intact meniscus two years after surgery. Two patients saw their symptoms return and opted to have the meniscus removed.
More than 1 million people in the United States and Europe suffer from this problem. If stem cell therapy for meniscal tears could be made more cost effective, it could be used to treat many of those individuals.
While the new technique is certainly promising, it is currently prohibitively expensive. The researchers hope the treatment could be used to treat younger patients or sportsmen and women. Work is ongoing to refine the method and hopefully use donor stem cells, which would bring the cost of the treatment down.