Chris has had problems with his knees for most of his life. The 33-year-old suffers from a rare condition called osteochondritis dissecans which causes cartilage in his joints to break down. The symptoms in his left knee became unbearable.
"It was quite painful. Sports were difficult and then walking became an issue," he said.
Chris, who prefers not to use his last name, was too young for knee replacement surgery but was a candidate for a new technique called Matrix Autologous Chondrocite Implant or MACI. Chris' own cartilage cells were grown in a lab and placed onto a collagen membrane. His surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital cut the membrane to size and filled holes in the cartilage of the knee, much like filling a pothole. Over time, those cells grow and develop into mature cartilage.
"We can template, cut and paste the membrane preloaded with cells into the base of the defect and just glue it there. That makes it technically much quicker, much easier," said Dr. Tom Minas, an orthopedic surgeon.
The technique has been used overseas for years but was just approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December. Chris is the first patient in the U.S. to have it.
The procedure could be used to treat the many thousands of patients who suffer from cartilage loss in their knee, including ACL injuries and early arthritis.
For Chris, who had many surgeries before, MACI was almost a breeze.
"It's been very easy comparatively," he said.
He's looking forward to getting back to his daily activities pain-free.
Patients can return to most activities within one year and to higher impact sports by 18 months. Most insurance companies cover the surgery.
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