The knee carries a huge amount of weight and severe pain occurs when the cushioning cartilage between the bones of the joint wear away leaving bone to grind on the bone. About 100,000 Britons need a knee replacement each year.
John Legg initially started to have knee pains four years ago, but he ignored it putting it down to age. After a referral from his GP, John saw Professor Anan Shetty on the NHS. An MRI showed that his cartilage was worn away meaning he had two options for treatment.
The first option was a knee replacement, which would mean up to 5 days in the hospital, and a long recovery time with pain for up to four months. The second option involved using keyhole surgery to drill into the bone of the knee to release stem cells which can then grow into new cartilage, bone or skin cells.
The surgeon would then have to inject special collagen, which would trigger the cells to form cartilage, and also provide a scaffold for them to grow into. The operation takes 35 minutes under general anaesthetic and John was able to go home that afternoon.
The pain only lasted for the first week, and crutches were only needed for the first six weeks, whilst the knee healed after which it could be used again normally.
This procedure is about a quarter of the cost of the knee replacement as there is no overnight stay. The operation carries standard risks.
The operation has been tried on over 60 patients so far and MRI scans at 6 and 12 weeks show strong cartilage growth in 80% to 85% of cases.
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