Meniscus tears are one of the most common knee problems around the world. In fact, in Europe and the US alone, there are more than a million cases each year.
This is a tear or injury to the cartilage in the knee, which acts as cushions for the knee cap. It gives the kneecap stability.
Tears are common injuries for athletes, especially soccer players. Most of the time, doctors can only fix them with a complex surgery.
Since the area doesn’t get any blood flow, it’s not easy for the wound to heal. As a result, many people don’t completely recover.
Often professionals advise a procedure called a meniscectomy. This procedure involves a total removal of the torn meniscus. Even though it’s usually successful, it doesn’t rule out other problems in the future.
However, researchers from the University of Liverpool and Bristol in the United Kingdom recently made a major discovery. They found a new way to heal the tear without needing to take out the torn meniscus.
This is a “living bandage” that they make with stem cells taken from the patient. It appears to stimulate cell growth in the affected zone and repairs the torn or injured tissue.
A stem cell bandage
The journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine published the study. It discusses how a “cellular bandage” could stimulate the healing of a torn meniscus.
The company spin-out Azellon developed the bandage and Innovate UK funded it.
The bandage was tried for the first time with five voluntary patients. All of them were between ages of 18 and 45 years old. They each suffered from white-zone meniscus tears.
- First, the researchers took stem cells from the participants’ bone marrow.
- They cultivated these cells in the laboratory for two weeks.
- Then, they used the mature cells in a membrane structure.
- This was then implanted in the meniscus tear.
- The cartilage was then sewn together to cover it and keep it stable.
What was the result?
The researchers were amazed to discover that the treatment was successful. The effects were very encouraging.
All of the patients showed intact menisci 12 months after the procedure. In addition, three of them underwent a full recovery of their knee after 24 months.
Unfortunately, the other two patients needed to have the torn meniscus removed because their original symptoms reappeared.
Two surgeries are necessary
You might think that this new treatment could be done without needing surgery. However, two surgeries are needed to make it happen.
- The first surgery is for extracting stem cells from your bone marrow.
- The second is the implantation of the bandage created.
However, Anthony Hollander, the Head Researcher, assures that they are working on making a better version of the treatment. They want to use donor stem cells to reduce the costs. This also helps the patients avoid going through two operations.
Professor Ashley Blom, Head of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Bristol, agrees:
“The Cell Bandage offers an exciting potential new treatment option for surgeons that could particularly benefit younger patients and athletes by reducing the likelihood of early onset osteoarthritis after a meniscectomy.”
This is something that requires more research. However, the results of this “cellular bandage” are very interesting. It represents an important future alternative to removing a torn meniscus.
Since it can repair torn tissues, it wouldn’t be necessary to go through more surgeries to regain knee function.
Moreover, since the tissues heal themselves, it significantly reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as arthritis, arthrosis, and osteoarthritis.