New stem cell injections repair damaged knee cartilage, surgeon says

At Seton Southwest Hospital, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Welsh is using a new medical procedure to repair knee cartilage damage in runners, weekend warriors and patients with arthritis.

Welsh said the procedure is available in two types—a surgeon can either transplant or inject mesenchymal stem cells that come from the patient's own body. In previous years, to add cartilage to repair a defect, a doctor would have to extract the cells from a cadaver or conduct two separate operations.

He explained a surgeon could take a biopsy of the patient's cartilage, send it to a lab that would replicate the cells and send back a syringe filled with cartilage cells six weeks later and then use those cells in a second surgery.

Instead, Welsh extracts the cells from the patient's pelvis and uses equipment to isolate the stem cells. He can then either inject the material into the patient's knee or surgically apply the cells in the form of a paste and use pig bladder as a graft to secure it, he said.

Welsh performed the procedure for the first time last year and has now completed it on 10 patients. He said his patients have seen improved function, decreased levels of pain, and regenerated cartilage. He said the method has been used in Europe for years but only recently became available in the U.S.

"Sometimes it's helping an ultra-marathoner run a hundred miles, and sometimes it's somebody walking to the kitchen," he said. "The ability to give somebody their life back is pretty satisfying."

When Welsh was a junior in high school, a major injury ended his football career and went undiagnosed for a year even though he saw five doctors. He decided to enter the medical field and has been a surgeon for 15 years.


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