Meniscus tears are very common. Surgery to remove the torn part of the meniscus is also very common. Unfortunately, many people who have torn their meniscus, or who have the torn piece removed will go on to develop osteoarthritis. Until recently, a person with persistent pain following meniscus surgery had very few options. They could undergo a meniscus transplant, or simply try medications or injections to treat the pain.
In January 2014 a preliminary, but exciting study revealed that a single injection of stem cells may help certain patients regrow a portion of the meniscus which was removed at the time of surgery. This study also showed that pain relief was higher in the stem cell-treated meniscus tear group.
Each knee contains two menisci. The meniscus functions as a shock absorber. It also helps distribute your weight across the knee joint to minimize the stress on the bones and articular cartilage. A torn meniscus is not capable of functioning normally. This results in abnormal stresses around the knee which can lead to arthritis, further loss of cartilage and pain.
There was evidence of meniscus regeneration and improvement in knee pain following treatment with allogeneic human mesenchymal stem cells. These results support the study of human mesenchymal stem cells for the apparent knee-tissue regeneration and protective effects.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are unique cells within our body. They are “immature” which means that they haven’t grown into a skin cell, a cartilage cell, or a heart cell yet. Stem cells have the ability to grow into almost any type of cell within our body. Each tissue in our body has unique chemical compounds. Those chemicals can cause stem cells to start the process of maturing and becoming a fully developed cell. Theoretically.. if a stem cell is placed in the knee, the chemicals present in the knee will lead the stem cells to mature into cartilage cells.
Can Stem Cells Treat A Meniscus Tear?
The study quoted above was the first (to my knowledge) to show that stem cells, injected into the knee can regrow a portion of the meniscus which was removed at the time of surgery. The study showed that some patients regrew up to 20% of the torn part of the meniscus. More importantly, this study showed that patients who received the stem cells after their surgery felt better and had better pain scores.
This is the first in what will likely be a number of studies to determine whether or not stem cells possess the ability to completely regrow a meniscus after a portion of it is removed. Further studies will be needed to see if two or more treatments can improve the amount of the meniscus that grew back. Further study is also needed to see if these results stand the test of time. Will the new meniscus tissue last?
This is a very exciting time. Can stem cells treat meniscus tears? Should you receive stem cells after your meniscus surgery? These are very important questions and it is something you need to discuss with your doctor.
Please keep in mind that this is still considered experimental.