Breaking news on broken-down joints

There’s old news — joint replacements for athletes are downright commonplace, seniors in their 80s and 90s are getting new hips — and now there’s good news. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco, led by sports medicine chief C. Benjamin Ma MD, are finding that damage to the cartilage connecting the foot bone to the ankle bone to the leg bone etc might not have to be permanent.

As almost anyone with a series of sports injuries may know, cartilage damage is permanent. In the words of Dr. Benjamin Ma, chief of sports medicine at UCSF, “cartilage is just lazy” — it doesn’t like to regenerate, so when it gets damaged or worn down through use or injury, it won’t come back on its own.

But Ma and his research team have discovered that given very specific circumstances, cartilage will, in fact, regenerate. The team has been taking knee cartilage from subjects and placing it on a matrix and under some very specific conditions, it is forced to regenerate.

“Cartilage cells are very lazy. They don’t like to grow if they don’t have to,” he said. “So we fool them by doing this particular maneuver and they feel they have to grow, and they form new cartilage. Then we glue it back into the knee.”

The new method has proved to be safe and it helps improve function, and now it is undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials to see whether it in fact works better than microfracture surgeries currently used to treat cartilage injuries.

Down the road, Ma and his team hope to see if there is an application of this method that could help people suffering from arthritis, which is also a cartilage disorder.

That cheer being heard across cyberspace is coming from millions of amateur athletes and the entire population over 50, almost every one of whom could use a little newly invigorated cartilage.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner.

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