Researchers using fat to rebuild cartilage in knees

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A University of Arizona researcher is growing cartilage from stem cells taken from fat tissue. (WLS)

A University of Arizona researcher is growing cartilage from stem cells taken from fat tissue.

He says 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.

"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," said patient Cindy Laughren.

Dr. John Szivek 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," said Szivek.

The scaffold is identical to the bone surface the new cartilage will eventually cover. These are two views of stem cells growing on top of cartilage. Doctor Szivek says 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 says it'll be a few years before the cartilage scaffolding system moves out of his lab and into human trials.

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