Innovative stem cell procedure could repair knee damage

April 9, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Now there's an innovative procedure that may help younger bodies heal and turn back the clock.

Keeping a body fit means keeping it in motion. But if the cartilage in your knee goes, so does your pain-free active lifestyle.

Enter the latest twist on stem cells, where what would have been thrown out may no help the body do what it can't do naturally.

These days about the only thing Rimas Gilvydis, 44, is nimble on is the checker board.

The exercise enthusiast has set aside his running shoes for the chance to fix an aching knee that was getting worse.

"Here's the cartilage that thickened area and when you come down here you see all of a sudden it's gone," he said.

Gilvydis is also a radiologist so he was able to see first-hand what kind of trouble his right knee was in.

Cartilage, that slippery substance that helps the bone slide without pain, was wearing away around his knee.

"I wish I had listened to my body more you know," he said. "I kinda ran through the pain which is not what you are supposed to do."

But inside this vial there's a unique mixture that just might help the painful defect in his knee heal faster and better.

This is Cartistem, a stem cell drug used to repair cartilage damage by aging, trauma or degenerative disease such as osteoarthritis.

It's made from cells found in umbilical cord blood which is typically discarded after birth.

Stem cells are like a blank slate and can turn into a variety of different cells in the body.

The experimental drug is being paired with microfracture surgery, a commonly used technique used to repair cartilage damage.

"There are still a number of stem cell transplants being done in the area of hematology and oncology this is one of the first applications however in the orthopedic space," surgeon Dr. Brian Cole of Rush University Medical Center said.

Cole is heading up the nation's first clinical study of the drug.

He's enthusiastic but stresses that this is not expected to be the holy grail for cartilage regeneration.

"Stem cells are not magic. They're not going to recreate a new joint or a new structure. They are going to assist in repair by up regulating or jump starting the environment in a healing phase," he said.

It's already being used oversees and it may help reduce pain, improve outcomes and spare patients from having more complicated surgery.

Gilvydis is making good progress but it's too early to tell what if any difference the stem cells are making.

"I'm excited to be part of this I feel like it's a safe procedure," Gilvydis said.

Participants ages 18 and older are needed for the two year study at Rush University Medical Center.

Cartilage Restoration Center
RUSH University Medical Center
Chicago, Illinois 60612

For information on the Cartistem study at Rush University Medical Center, call (312) 563-2214.

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