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Rejuvenation for 
Damaged Knees: with Cartilage Transplants

Jun 30, 2015 12:27PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Mention a knee injury to an active adult, and you’re likely to see a look of fear and despair. Nothing says “time to slow down” like torn cartilage in the knee. Or at least, that’s the way it used to be. Today, if you’re fit and under 40, chances are you may be able to return to the playing field even after significant damage. That’s because doctors are able to grow new cartilage from your own cells and implant them back into your joint.

Dr. James York, an orthopedic surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Group Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists, says many of his patients have regained their active lifestyles after cartilage transplant surgery. He describes one woman in her early 30s who was able to return to coaching and playing recreational soccer. “She had been having knee pain that grew progressively worse,” he says. “Her MRI revealed an area of damage bigger than a quarter in which the cartilage had been worn down to the bone.”

Known as Autologous Cartilage Implantation, or ACI, the procedure Dr. York used to repair his patient’s knee included taking a snippet of cartilage the size of two pencil erasers from an area of the knee that doesn’t bear weight. He sent it off to a lab to be cultured. Within two months they had 16 million baby cartilage cells ready to implant back into her knee. Dr. York sewed a tissue-thin membrane over the damaged cartilage and injected the new cells beneath it. Once there, they attached to the bone, growing into brand new cartilage over the following months. Most patients can return to pre-injury activities after about nine months.

Do You Qualify for ACI?

The procedure may be appropriate if you:

  • Have cartilage damage the size of a nickel or larger
  • Are generally under 40 years old
  • Do not have arthritis
  • Have healthy surrounding cartilage

Other Options

  • Micro-fracture is one option for patients with defects that are dime-sized and smaller. It involves puncturing tiny holes in damaged cartilage to encourage re-growth into the defective area.
  • Coupling micro-fracture with injections of Synthetic Joint Fluid-gel, which is often used for patients with arthritis, can result in even greater success.
  • Cartilage graft which uses a mesh of tiny cartilage pieces placed over the defect.

This Community Health story is provided by Anne Arundel Medical Center.