A Cartilage Transfusion For Bad Knees

KNEE INJURIES ARE A notorious problem for athletes. About 650,000 people a year undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair damaged cartilage in their knees. Unfortunately, because cartilage tissue doesn't regenerate in the body, the benefit often lasts just a few years.

Now, researchers at Genzyme Tissue Repair Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., have a promising new treatment for knee damage: a process to grow a patient's own cartilage cells that can be reimplanted in a bad knee. In a two-part surgical procedure, cartilage cells are removed through a biopsy, cultured at Genzyme's lab, then injected back into the damaged portion of the knee through open-knee surgery. The cells are held in place by the periosteum--the membrane that covers bone surface. If the procedure works, the cells integrate into the surrounding tissue and mature in normal cartilage, restoring frictionless movement to the knee.

The operation has been successful in Sweden, where 14 of 16 patients who underwent the process reported "good to excellent" results. On Mar. 24, New England Patriots and Boston Bruins team doctor Bertram Zarins will perform the first procedure in the U.S. on an unnamed patient at Massachusetts General Hospital. By the end of the year, Genzyme hopes the operation will be available in six U.S. cities. The price: $10,000 for the cell culture, plus hospital costs of up to $20,000.

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