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Monday
May092011

Stem Cells: Alternative to Knee Replacement?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Last year, Patricia Beals was told she'd need a double knee replacement to repair her severely arthritic knees or she'd probably spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Hoping to avoid surgery, Beals, 72, opted instead for an experimental treatment that involved harvesting bone marrow stem cells from her hip, concentrating the cells in a centrifuge and injecting them back into her damaged joints.

"Almost from the moment I got up from the table, I was able to throw away my cane," Beals says. "Now I'm biking and hiking like a 30-year-old."

A handful of doctors around the country are administering treatments like the one Beals received to stop or even reverse the ravages of osteoarthritis. Stem cells are the only cells in the body able to morph into other types of specialized cells. When the patient's own stem cells are injected into a damaged joint, they appear to transform into chondrocytes, the cells that go on to produce fresh cartilage. They also seem to amplify the body's own natural repair efforts by accelerating healing, reducing inflammation, and preventing scarring and loss of function.

Christopher J. Centeno, M.D., the rehab medicine specialist who performed Beals' procedure, says the results he sees from stem cell therapy are remarkable. Of the more-than-200 patients his Bloomfield, Colo., clinic treated over a two-year period, he says, "two thirds of them reported greater than 50 percent relief and about 40 percent reported more than 75 percent relief one to two years afterward."

According to Centeno, knees respond better to the treatment than hips. Only eight percent of his knee patients opted for a total knee replacement two years after receiving a stem cell injection. The complete results from his clinical observations will be published in a major orthopedic journal later this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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