In the latest development of adult stem cell technology, doctors in England are pioneering a new technique in which autologous adult stem cells are used to repair damaged hips. The new procedure is already rendering conventional hip replacements unnecessary.
Having suffered from a painful weakening of his hip joint that was caused by avascular necrosis of the femural head (dead tissue in his leg bone at the hip joint), 39-year old Mark Venables became one of the first patients to undergo the new therapy, which was conducted at Spire Hospital in Southampton. Using adult stem cells that were harvested from bone marrow extracted from Mark’s pelvis, the doctors then mixed the stem cells with ground-up bone that had been derived from another patient. After removing the necrotic tissue from the ball of Mark’s hip, the doctors then filled the cavity with the new mixture.
As Dr. Doug Dunlop, who performed the procedure, explains, Mark’s bone eventually would have collapsed without the stem cell treatment. "If this new procedure works, he won’t need a hip replacement. It will fix his hip for life," according to Dr. Dunlop. As Mark himself stated prior to the operation, "I just want to get back to an active life." His rapid recovery would seem to indicate that he is on the road to doing exactly that.
Thus far 6 patients have received the treatment, 5 of whom have shown exceptionally rapid improvement. Although one of the 6 patients did not improve, no adverse side effects were reported in any of the patients. In the 5 of the 6 patients who did respond positively, improvement included the ability to walk normally again without any pain, and hip replacement surgery was no longer necessary. Prior to receiving the adult stem cell therapy, hip replacement surgery had been prescribed as necessary for all 6 of the patients.
Carl Millard, one of the patients who improved following the stem cell procedure, is now able to walk normally and without any pain. As he describes, "I feel great. If this can prevent people having to have a hip replacement, I think it’s wonderful."
Dr. Richard Oreffo of Southampton University has designed a further improvement upon the technique, in which an artificial material – containing all the right chemical growth factors for adult stem cells – would be used instead of donated, ground-up bone. As Dr. Oreffo explains, "Bone is a living vibrant tissue. These stem cells generate new tissue and drive new blood vessel formation to bring in nutrients. Just as people need cornflakes and sugar in the morning, so cells need nutrients to grow and survive – and that is what is so important here."
It has been estimated that approximately 30,000 knee replacements and 50,000 hip replacement operations are performed every year just in England and Wales alone. In larger countries, such as the U.S., the potential market is proportionately larger. By rendering conventional hip replacements obsolete, this new adult stem cell therapy promises to offer a highly preferable option to an increasing number of people who suffer from a wide variety of orthopedic problems. Indeed, as previously reported a number of times on this website, autologous adult stem cell therapy is transforming the entire field of orthopedic medicine, rendering most types of joint replacement surgery unnecessary. Such is the case not only for conditions of avascular necrosis, such as that featured herein, but also more generally for age-related osteoarthritis and degenerative joint diseases. No doubt the "orthopedic surgery" of the future will be vastly different from that of the past, and will most likely consist of pin-pointed injections of autologous adult stem cells rather than entire joint replacements.