Adult Stem Cells used to Create “Living Bandage” for Knee Injuries

Wed Nov 19, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

BRISTOL, UK, November 19, 2008 ( – A team of scientists at Bristol University has created a living “bandage” from adult stem cells that can be used to heal common sport injuries.

Among the most common sport injuries in Britain, a nation of football (soccer) fans, is a tear in the cartilage of the knee. Every year, more than 80,000 people in Britain suffer tears to mensical cartilage. Repairs to knee injuries have until now been restricted to surgical treatments, including removal of cartilage and transplantation. The majority of meniscal tears are not suitable for repair and instead the torn piece is removed. Removal of the meniscus cartilage can lead to progressive, degenerative arthritis of the knee joint.

In the Bristol university experiment, cartilage-producing stem cells taken from 23 patients with knee injuries, were coaxed to grow and coat a sponge-like scaffold, made from hyaluronic acid - a compound that occurs naturally in cartilage. The scientists applied this cellular “bandage” to the inside of tears in knee cartilage in the lab.

After two weeks of growth, the cells and scaffold were inserted to fix tears of up to 11 square centimetres in the knee cartilage of the patients. The two halves of the tear grew back together. The team, led by Anthony Hollander, a professor of rheumatology and tissue engineering at Bristol University, told the New Scientist, “We found the cartilage matures well, even in patients with early osteoarthritis.”

In related news, Bristol University has reported that the world’s first tissue-engineered trachea (windpipe) has been created using a patient’s own stem cells. This tissue-engineered airway has all the “mechanical properties” that permit normal breathing, saving the life of the patient, a 30 year-old mother of two who suffered a collapsed airway following a severe case of tuberculosis.

Doctors considered removing the woman’s lung, but were concerned by the high risk of complications and high mortality rate with such a procedure. Instead, stem cells were obtained from the woman’s own bone marrow, grown into a large population and matured into cartilage cells. These were then “seeded” with tracheal cells. This procedure created a graft that was used to replace the patient’s left main bronchus.

Professor Macchiarini, lead author on the paper, said, “We are terribly excited by these results. Just four days after transplantation the graft was almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal bronchi. After one month, a biopsy elicited local bleeding, indicating that the blood vessels had already grown back successfully.”

In addition, the university said, the new trachea is free from the risks of immune system rejection seen with conventional transplanted organs.

A media release from the university said, “These remarkable results provide crucial new evidence that adult stem cells, combined with biologically compatible materials, can offer genuine solutions to other serious illnesses.”

Dr. Anthony Hollander said, “This successful treatment manifestly demonstrates the potential of adult stem cells to save lives”

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