Health and Medicine

How We Set About Mending Damaged Knees With Stem Cells

The Conversation

A meniscal tear is one of the most common knee injuries, especially in young, active people. Over a million new cases are diagnosed each year in Europe and the US alone, and it also affects professional sportspeople – footballer Luis Suarez, tennis player Roger Federer and Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies are among the many elite athletes to have suffered a meniscal tear. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for this injury, but my team and I believe we are one step closer to providing one. Our “living bandage” uses stem cells and collagen to regrow the damaged meniscal cartilage, which acts as a special kind of shock-absorber.

Knees are rather wonderful things – first class engineering provided through millennia of evolution. Huge forces are channelled through the knees when we stand up, walk or run, amounting to three to five times our body weight in normal daily use. And they must survive these extreme conditions every day while also giving us the flexibility that we enjoy whenever we move. When they work we don’t really notice them. But if we damage them, we suffer incredible pain and lose the freedom to live a normal, active life.

One of the reasons knees work so well is because of the meniscal cartilage, which sits between the bone-ends like stiff cushions. There are two of these menisci in each knee and they are incredibly important for protecting the bones in the joint. If we damage them we are in trouble. However, they can easily tear if we suffer a trauma to the knee and this is a very common type of sporting injury.

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