Killing Knee Pain Using Stem Cells

Killing Knee Pain Using Stem Cells

How stem cells could help repair damaged knees.

No matter what your age, when cartilage begins to wear out around our knees or becomes damaged, it can limit our movement and cause serious pain. Now, a new technique using stem cells from donor umbilical cords, typically discarded after birth, could help young patients rebuild cartilage and reduce pain.
Chasing after his son Jimmy hasn’t been easy for Jim Hackett.
“I figured two years down the road, I want to be able to run around with him and play ball with him, but at the rate I was going, that wasn’t going to happen,” Jim Hackett told Ivanhoe.
Years working as a police officer have taken a toll on his knees.
“It just gets to the point where your knee just says enough and you end up with cartilage problems,” Jim said.
Dr. Brian Cole is using stem cells to repair Jim’s cartilage.
“Several small holes are made into the bone to make it bleed intentionally and in that blood are our own body’s stem cells that lay down fibrocartilage or scar cartilage,” Brian Cole, MD, MBA Professor, Department of Orthopedics, Section Head, Rush Cartilage Restoration Center, told Ivanhoe.
Then stem cells from umbilical cord blood are combined with hyaluronic acid, a building block of cartilage.
“The hope is through acting as a regulator, in that area, they can actually improve the healing response,” Dr. Cole said.
Jim is back on his feet.
“My knees are great. I’m able to kneel now and before, prior to surgery, I wasn’t able to do that,” Jim explained.
The therapy’s been approved in South Korea and preliminary results here are promising. The best patients for the procedure are under the age of 45 with small localized areas of cartilage damage. It’s not meant for older patients with arthritis or in place of a knee replacement.

BACKGROUND: Cartilage damage in the knee is something that affects more than 12 million people a year. Medically termed articular cartilage, this firm and rubbery material is a shield that protects the bones and acts as a “shock absorber”. Those who damage their cartilage or have cartilage that is deteriorating will some times experience pain and they will notice a decrease in range of motion in the knee. If the cartilage is not taken care of and worsens, a patient may have to undergo specific treatment or surgery. Articular cartilage damage can also occur in the hip, shoulder, elbow, ankle, and wrist.  (Source:

SYMPTOMS: Patients who suffer from articular cartilage damage will notice symptoms of inflammation, a change in range of motion, and stiffness. When the knee becomes inflamed, it may also feel sore and tender. This is the most common indication that the cartilage is being compromised. If a patient takes note of the fact that their range of motion in the knee has changed, there is a good chance that the cartilage is deteriorating and attention needs to be brought to the injury. Lastly, if stiffness occurs in the knee, and it becomes more of a challenge to perform daily functions, rather than a natural movement, then it is time to see a doctor. (Source:

TREATMENT: To treat damaged knee cartilage, a patient can opt for a non-surgical or surgical treatment. Decisions are made between patients and doctors and will vary depending on the severity of the injury. If a patient seeks to have surgery or try a non-surgical treatment, he or she will test the following options:

Non-surgical options:
• Painkillers
• Lifestyle Changes
• A supportive device, like a cane

Surgical treatment options:
• Marrow stimulation
• Mosaicplasty
• Allograft osteochondral transplantation
• Autologous chondrocyte implantation (Source:    

NEW TREATMENT: Stem cells are now being used to treat damaged cartilage in the knees. A study out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is working on using patients’ own blood vessels to improve the function of cartilage. The stem cells in the blood are inserted in the bone through tiny holes that are created by the surgeon. This stimulates the cartilage and can repair damage. The study will not work for patients who have bone arthritis or who are in need of a knee replacement. (Source:

Mukesh Ahuja
Research Administrator
The Cartilage Restoration Center
Rush University Medical Center
(312) 432-2380

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