Health Check: Cartilage repair uses patient's cells

A new treatment can bring relief for the most common cause of knee pain in young athletes: cartilage damage. (WJAR)

A new treatment can bring relief for the most common cause of knee pain in young athletes: cartilage damage.

Cartilage acts as a shock absorber, but repeated stress can wear it down and cause intense pain. A new FDA-approved product uses a patient's own cells to repair cartilage.

The first patient to have this done in Rhode Island was 25-year-old Chris Jursek of Boston.

"Even walking upstairs, always, a little pain. I felt like my knee was arthritic," he said before the surgery.

This former college lacrosse player has had a succession of injuries involving his knee cap.

"When I first did it, I was in practice and it popped out laterally, and then I was obviously able to put it back," said Jursek.

Several surgeries later, he went to see Dr. Brett Owens, with University Orthopedics in Providence, the only one doing this in Rhode Island. And that's where he heard about something new and innovative.

"He kept dislocating out to the sides," Owens said.

It was a way to use Jursek's own healthy cartilage cells to repair that damage. After stabilizing his knee, Owens removed those cells and sent them to a lab.

"Initially, within the first two weeks they're able to isolate the cartilage cells and then between a two- and six-week period, they can expand those cells, grow the cells, put them on the membrane," said Owens.

A membrane called MACI, that's absorbed by the body.

"The MACI procedure grow more cartilage than any of the other procedures that we have," said Owens.

"I thought I'd be on crutches and bedridden for a couple weeks, but I was back at work the next week," said Jursek, who had the surgery six weeks ago.

The rehab is hard work and can take up to nine months, but Owens said this is pretty much a permanent solution for Jursek and others like him.

"The ideal patient for this is a young athlete, usually. Unfortunately, we see this in early teens as well, but teens, 20s and 30 year olds usually are the ones we're most aggressive with," said Owens.

"I hopefully will get to the point where I can play recreational sports and maybe get back on the lacrosse field for a little bit,” said Jursek.

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