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Stem cell bandage heals knee injuries in trial

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A ‘living bandage’ made from stem cells could one day be used to treat meniscal tears.

Developed by Bristol University spin-out company Azellon, the cell bandage is designed to enable the injury to repair itself by encouraging cell growth in the affected tissue. It has been successfully trialled in humans for the first time by scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Bristol.

The menisci are rubbery cushions that lie in the knee between the major bones of the joint, acting like shock absorbers. Meniscal tears are particularly common in contact sports like football and rugby.

In a study published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, a prototype version of the cell bandage was trialled in five patients with white-zone meniscal tears.

The procedure involved taking stem cells, harvested from the patient’s own bone marrow, which were then grown for two weeks before being seeded onto a membrane scaffold that helps to deliver the cells into the injured site. The manufactured cell bandage was then surgically implanted into the middle of the tear and the cartilage was sewn up around the bandage to keep it in place.

One year after implantation, all five patients had an intact meniscus. After two years, three of the five patients retained an intact meniscus and had returned to normal knee functionality while the other two patients required surgical removal of the damaged meniscus due to a new tear or return of symptoms.

Professor Anthony Hollander, formerly of Bristol and now chair of Stem Cell Biology at the University of Liverpool and founder and chief scientific officer of Azellon, said: “The cell bandage trial results are very encouraging and offer a potential alternative to surgical removal that will repair the damaged tissue and restore full knee function.

“We are currently developing an enhanced version of the cell bandage using donor stem cells, which will reduce the cost of the procedure and remove the need for two operations.”

The cell bandage was produced by the Advanced Therapies Unit at the NHS Blood & Transplant facility in Speke, Liverpool and implanted into patients at Southmead Hospital in Bristol under the supervision of Professor Ashley Blom, head of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Bristol.

Professor Blom commented: “The cell bandage offers an exciting potential new treatment option for surgeons that could particularly benefit younger patients and athletes by reducing the likelihood of early onset osteoarthritis after meniscectomy.”