The NHS has recently approved cutting edge cartilage cell transplantation offering patients with a certain form of arthritis a new preventative treatment option.
Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) has won approval to be funded across the NHS thanks to a growing body of clinical evidence – supported by Arthritis Research UK and others – that has conclusively demonstrated the considerable benefits the technique offers.
How the procedure works
ACI is designed to help patients who have small areas of cartilage damage or early osteoarthritis of the knee. These conditions can often affect younger people in their 20s and 30s, sometimes as the result of a sporting injury.
The procedure sees a sample of cartilage removed from the knee, allowing doctors to grow a fresh supply of healthy cells that are native to the patient’s body in a laboratory, a process that takes around three weeks. These chondrocyte cells can then be returned to the affected area in a second surgical procedure.
Following this process, the cells anchor themselves to the bone within 24 hours, resulting in fresh cartilage growth at the damaged site. Patients can expect to resume everyday use of the joint in three months and full activities including sports after 12 months, making this a much better option for younger patients than knee replacement, which was previously the only alternative treatment.
A growing body of supporting evidence
Before the recent decision to approve this treatment for full NHS funding, ACI was only available at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire.
However, further studies of the procedure have been ongoing in numerous locations in recent years to prove the considerable benefits that ACI can offer. Research carried out by the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre and the ASCOT clinical trial, led by Professor Sally Roberts and also funded by Arthritis Research UK, have contributed evidence that helped to secure the eventual approval.
Their research highlighted a number of factors – including age, gender, location and number of defects, and the number of previous operations – that can all affect the chances of ACI succeeding, giving doctors valuable guidance in determining which patients are most likely to benefit.
As such, ACI has now been approved for the treatment of patients who have not had previous surgery to repair articular cartilage defects, with minimal osteoarthritic damage to the knee, and defects that measure over two square cm.
To find out more visit the Arthritis Research UK website