Stem cells offer new way to repair joints

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A new way to repair damaged joints – using stem cells. It adds a surgery site, but the hope is it will reduce the rate of healing time. Check out Harold Kling’s journey.

Harold Kling, torn rotator cuff patient: “I just stepped head over heels backwards. Clumsy, human mistake.”

Three months after he fell off the lift gate of a delivery truck, the 63-year-old is prepped to have his torn rotator cuff repaired.

Dr Nikhil Verma, orthopedic surgeon, Midwest Orthopedics at Rush: “The rotator cuff is basically a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. There’s a total of four muscles, and he’s torn two of them.”

Harold Kling: “I heard something snap, and I blacked out for 10 or 15 seconds. I was afraid I was going to hit my head. I decided to just kind of roll and land on my shoulder.”

Dr Verma: “Since that time he’s had pain and loss of function in his shoulder. So he has weakness with trying to elevate it or using his arms away from his body or over his head.”

In the operating room, Harold Kling’s shoulder surgery starts in his hip. Stem cells, harvested on the spot from bone marrow in the hip, are spun down and isolated as Midwest Orthopedics at Rush surgeon Nikhil Verma cleans up the damage and fixes the tears.

Dr Verma: “We put widgets or anchors into the bone, and then we have stitches or sutures that actually reattach the tendon back to the bone.”

Then it’s up to the body to heal, but it’s not a perfect process. As we age, the blood supply to the tendon naturally deteriorates – putting some patients at a disadvantage.

Dr Verma: “The tendon fails to heal and that can be anywhere between 20 to 30 percent, depending on the size of the tear, the age of the patient and other factors like smoking. The normal tendon, when we repair it, heals with scar tissue.”

That’s where the stem cells come in. Instead of scar tissue taking over, Dr Verma hopes the cells – which have the ability to differentiate — will help generate more normal anatomy.

Dr Verma: “That means if we need them to become a tendon, they become a tendon. If we need them to become a bone cell, they become a bone cell or a blood vessel cell.”

Dr Verma: “So this is the final product. We’re basically going to inject this directly into the repair site. What we’d like to see is an improved rate of healing, so decrease those number of patients that have a failure of the repair. Number two is if we can improve the time frame it takes to heal and number three, when it’s all said and done, if we can get a more normal tendon-to-bone appearance.”

Doctors at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush are tracking the impact of the stem cells – and looking for patients to participate in their clinical trial. You can learn more about the study and how to enroll by emailing shoulderstemcells@rushortho.com or calling (312) 361-2104.

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