New Technique Uses Fat Cells to Treat Knee Arthritis

Fat. It gives us jiggly thighs, flabby arms and that spare tire around our midsection. But now, it could hold promising potential for patients with osteoarthritis. A University of Arizona researcher has found a way to grow cartilage from stem cells taken from fat tissue, possibly revolutionizing the way we treat knee pain.

John Szivek, Ph.D., director of the University of Arizona Orthopaedic Research Laboratory and a senior scientist at the University of Arizona Arthritis Center, discovered that adult stem cells extracted from fat tissue can be converted to grow cartilage. These cells are then transferred onto a scaffolding model that is identical to the bone structure of a joint surface. This allows cartilage growth to occur over a large surface area, which could lead to improved alternatives to knee replacement surgery.

With knee replacement surgery, damaged joint surfaces are removed and replaced with a plastic or metal joint. Szivek’s technique would allow patients to retain their own joint surfaces rather than replacing them, and damaged surfaces would be repaired with cartilage growth. Because this technique utilizes the patient’s own cells, there is no risk of rejection and a much lower risk of side effects. The results would also be lifelong.

“Although a person’s knee is composed of three distinct surfaces, the inside (medial), outside (lateral) and the knee cap interfacing surface, many times only one surface of the joint is damaged,” Szivek explains, “but the only successful treatment we have at the moment replaces the whole joint.”

“We potentially are curing a problem rather than just treating the symptoms,” he adds.

Szivek’s total surface replacement technique is currently being tested and is still a few years away from human trials. However, this promising new research could mean improved treatments and less invasive options for arthritis sufferers in the very near future (Source: University of Arizona).

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