If you're experiencing knee pain because of a cartilage injury, you may find relief by growing your own cartilage. The Carticel Implant procedure allows doctors to replace damaged cartilage with your own healthy cartilage, that's grown in a lab.
Ricky Biafora has been a freestyle skier and year round competitive soccer player since he was 3 years old. But all that intense activity took a toll on the 17-year-old's knees. "The cartilage was shredded up almost like someone took a weed whacker under my kneecaps and just shredded up my knee cartilage," said Biafora. He was a good candidate for carticel implant surgery. His knee cartilage cells were harvested and grown in a lab in about six weeks. "They send you a vial back that actually contains what they describe as 12 million cartilage cells in it," explained Dr. George Bal, a WVU Orthopaedic Surgeon. "You inject those or put those cells underneath a patch that's sewn over the hole in the knee, and those cartilage cells multiply and eventually grow to fill the defect with what you hope is normal cartilage."
The recovery is long, usually about a year. So Biafora had to make a tough decision. He sat out for more than 12 months of competition. "I knew if I wanted to ski and if I wanted to play soccer later on in my life, that I had to sacrifice a year," said Biafora. Nine months after surgery, Biafora continues rehabbing on cardio machines and weight lifting, and he was just cleared to start running again, a huge milestone. "This is an uncommon surgery, but it works very well for a specific group of people," according to Dr. Bal. He went on to explain that if someone has an isolated cartilage injury in their knee, that's where this surgery has been designed to be performed.
Doctors at the West Virginia University School of Medicine have said that growing your own cartilage is not a procedure for patients with arthritis in their knees. But there is research underway that could make this procedure possible for those patients in the future.