If you have a meniscal tear, or are at risk for getting one, good news may be on the horizon. A “living bandage” derived from stem cells has been applied to an injured human knee for the first time by scientists from the Universities of Liverpool and Bristol.
Meniscal tears are a common sports injury, suffered by upwards of a million people yearly in Europe and America alone. Most meniscal tears occur in the part of the meniscus that receives no blood supply, making it difficult or impossible to heal. Many people who suffer meniscal tears choose to have the damaged part of the meniscus removed completely. It’s effective short-term, but can lead to osteoarthritis.
A company called Azellon has developed something called the Cell Bandage, a stem-cell-derived treatment that equips meniscal tissue to heal itself. Stem cells are collected from the patient’s bone marrow, grown for two weeks in a lab, introduced to a membrane scaffold and then surgically implanted into the tear. Cartilage is sewn up in such a way as to keep the scaffold stable as it’s integrated into the tissue.
Cell Bandage prototypes have been implanted in five patients so far, and the results seem hopeful. The patients, ranging in age from eighteen to forty-five, all had a completely repaired meniscus within a year of the operation. Within two years, three of the five were back to pre-tear levels of knee function. The other two, however, had to get the meniscus removed due to their symptoms returning, or because they suffered new tears.
“The Cell Bandage trial results are very encouraging,” said Anthony Hollander, Chief Scientific Officer at Azellon. “And offer a potential alternative to surgical removal that will repair the damaged tissue and restore full knee function.”
“We are currently developing an enhanced version of the Cell Bandage using donor stem cells, which will reduce the cost of the procedure and remove the need for two operations.”
According to Ashley Blom, the orthopedic surgeon who supervised the operations, “The Cell Bandage offers an exciting potential new treatment option fur surgeons that could particularly benefit younger patients and athletes by reducing the likelihood of early onset osteoarthritis after meniscectomy.
While it’s not a magic bullet, the new procedure definitely seems to have serious potential to improve the quality of life of the people who receive it. Hopefully it is offered at a cost that will not bankrupt people.