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New procedure offers alternative to knee replacement surgery

9:56 AM, Aug 19, 2011   |    comments
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29-year-old Kathryn Keppinger says she's had knee pain since she was a teenager. The result of running and injury, she says the pain was constant. Kathryn endured surgery and years of physical therapy, but says the pain continued. She says knee replacement surgery was out of the question because of her young age.

"I would have to do it again in the next 15 to 20 years," she explained.

Temple orthopedic surgeon Eric Kropf says knee pain is often the result of damaged cartilage, which has difficulty repairing itself.

"It gets it's nutrition from being bathed by the joint fluid around it and that doesn't always have the growth factors in there to heal it. So it will scar down and maybe stabilize to some extent, but it will never be quite like what you were born with," he said.

Now doctors are using a person's own cells to create a cure.

"The concept falls under the umbrella of cartilage restoration or repair. If you think about it I'm going to restore your cartilage back to the way back to the way it was before your injury. It's very exciting. It's on the cutting edge," Dr. Kropf said.

First surgeons remove a small amount of healthy cartilage. The matrix of cells is sent to a lab to grow and multiply. Doctors then surgically implant the new cartilage cells into the bone, sealing it under a patch.

"So what happens over time is those cells are growing, they're amplifying and they're making that matrix back, so they are actually filling that defect and recreating your cartridge over time," Dr. Kropf said.

Recovery is long and can be grueling, requiring a lot of physical therapy. Dr. Kropf says it can take a year to 18 months for the new cartridge to be sound. Kathryn had the procedure eight months ago and says she was in a lot of pain for the first few weeks.

She spent three months in bed, but says he knee has improved by 80 to 90 percent. She says she likes the fact that she used her own tissue and spared her joint.

"I have absolutely no regret I don't doubt for a second that it was the right thing to do," she said.

(Copyright © 2011 NBC Universal, All Rights Reserved)

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