Using Fat to Build Cartilage in Knees

TUCSON, Ariz. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – A University of Arizona researcher is growing cartilage from stem cells taken from fat tissue. He said that cartilage could repair small defects and large areas of damage seen in many arthritis patients, and one day, it could eliminate the need to put plastic and metal in people’s knees.

Cindy Laughren walks with her dog Ellie to ease arthritis pain in one of her knees.

“It can be very painful. It is definitely very restricting. It’s one of those things that I have to take into account every single day,” Laughren explained.

A few miles away at the University of Arizona, John Szivek, Ph.D., a professor of orthopedic surgery is growing cartilage that someday might help patients like Laughren avoid a total knee replacement. He puts the stem cells on tiny scaffolds, after extracting them from fat tissue and removing non-functional stem cells.

“We’re hoping that using a purer stem cell batch, if you want to think of it that way, we’ll produce more consistent results and produce results that we can see in patients that have a lot of damage,” Szivek told Ivanhoe.

The scaffold is identical to the bone surface the new cartilage will eventually cover. Szivek said side effects will be minimal, since it’s the patient’s own cells. They should recover faster, and the repair should last a lifetime.

 “To have something in- between that would avoid that total knee joint replacement would be huge,” said Laughren.

Szivek said it’ll be a few years before the cartilage scaffolding system moves out of his lab and into human trials.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Jason Ball, Editor; Rusty Reed, Videographer.