April 9 - Doctors at Emory University are testing a new stem cell therapy for people with severe arthritis. They hope that by harvesting and reinjecting stem cells from patients, the potent cells will regenerate and repair areas damaged by arthritis. Ben Gruber reports.
Patty Simpson had been living with chronic pain most of her adult life. She suffers from severe osteoarthritis, a condition not helped by her active lifestyle. Simpson has undergone surgery on several occasions to repair ligaments and cartilage in both of her knees. But with every surgery, Patty says, the arthritis pain gets more severe. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATTY SIMPSON, PATIENT, SAYING: "Every morning when I get up it takes about five minutes to fully extend my legs and get up without feeling that it is miserable to get up. Going down stairs or I like to hike, I am very active so going down hills, anything like that is very bothersome. Just running, running with the dogs, it's chronic pain all of the time despite being on lots of medicines." Patty believed she'd eventually have to undergo knee replacement surgery. But then she started looking for other options. That search led to Ken Mautner, an assistant professor of orthopaedics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Mautner is investigating a new procedure for severe arthritis, one that involves using a patient's own cells. He's inserting a syringe deep into Patty's hip bone, one of the few places where stem cells exist in an adult. The cells will be mixed with Patty's blood and a combination of proteins and growth hormones, before being re-injected into her knees. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KENNETH MAUTNER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ORTHOPAEDICS, EMORY UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The idea is that if you put all the right components in the area that the body will help direct them to the site where the damage is and when they get to that site they are pre-programmed to know what to do. So if we inject them into an area where there has been torn tendons or there had been some cartilage damage, the hope is that we can start to repair that area if we can get the medication to stay there and to do its job." And even though the treatment is largely untested and may not prove effective, Patty Simpson says the idea of her body curing itself makes sense. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATTY SIMPSON, PATIENT, SAYING: "It's not another chemical or something going into your body. It is your own cells and so it's not anything different which makes it feel safer to me." After the stem cells are ready, Dr. Mautner uses a sonogram to pinpoint the most damaged areas in Patty's knees and inserts the stem cells with another syringe. He hopes the stem cell mixture will repair the tissues, ligaments and cartilage in Patty's damaged knees. Dr. Mautner says it will take several years to gauge how effective cell therapies like these will be. But says the potential they hold is significant. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KENNETH MAUTNER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ORTHOPAEDICS, EMORY UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "I think we are entering a new evolution where we are going to be doing things even more minimally invasive, a lot of in office procedures and using your own cells or some artificially made cells that can help to cause the regeneration and the healing to occur. So I absolutely think that we are on the verge of an ortho-biological or regenerative evolution that going to change the way we do medicine." (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATTY SIMPSON, PATIENT, SAYING: "So within hopefully a few months we will be able to tell the difference and hopefully going forward it will just keep on getting better." Patty Simpson is getting married in August; and she hopes her knees will provide a pain-free trip take her down the aisle.