Stem Cell Hope for Knee Ops; Research Could Help Sports Stars Dogged by Cartilage Injuries

Article excerpt

CUTTING-EDGE stem cell technology being explored in Wales could revolutionise knee surgery, ending the injury misery for the nation's sporting elite.

Work being carried out at Cardiff University aims to determine whether implanted stem cells can repair damaged cartilage.

Although still in the early research stages, if it proves successful the technology could have major implications for the treatment of cartilage injuries and could even reduce the need for complex knee replacement operations.

It is also hoped that the development of effective stem cell technology could reduce the incidence and pain of osteoarthritis in later life.

The research is part of the first wave of work being carried out around the world into the application of stem cells which, many scientists believe, is the future of modern medicine.

Backed by a pounds 90,000 Arthritis Research Fund grant, it follows on from previous research in Wales which identified the presence of stem cells, or similar progenitor cells, on the surface of cartilage.

Stem cells have the ability to transform themselves into any other cell in the human body and progenitor cells should, theoretically, be able to give rise to other cells of that tissue type.

The hope is if these cells can be implanted into damaged cartilage, new high-quality cartilage will grow at the injury site, healing the trauma. Post-doctoral research associate Dr Sam Webster, who is collaborating with Dr Sam Evans at Cardiff University and Dr Anwyn Williams at the University of Wales College of Medicine, said, ``If you damage the cartilage in a sporting injury a surgeon will use keyhole technology to cut away the surface of the cartilage and wash it out with saline solution.

``This can sometimes encourage the cartilage to re-grow but it won't be true cartilage and patients can end up having future joint problems or even need the joint replacing.

``This is the problem with most cartilage repair strategies - they don't last long. …