Carticel is the brand name of a new treatment that takes a patient's own cartilage cells, cultivates them outside the body and then, uses the new cells to replace the damaged ones.
Doctors take a piece of healthy cartilage from the patient and send it to Genzyme Tissue Repair's lab in Cambridge, Mass. In a couple of weeks, new cartilage cells are grown and the cells are sent back to the patient's hospital for implantation surgery.
"The new cartilage cells replace the missing cartilage and restore the knee to a normal surface," says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Shrock of Broward General Medical Center in Miami.
Randy Komocsin knows firsthand about knee pain. He's hasn't been able to eliminate his pain since an accident last year.
"I tried to rehabilitate the knee for about eight to nine months," he says.
Randy underwent the Carticel treatment about two months ago and already, he notices a difference.
"Now that I'm putting weight on it, I don't feel the pain I felt before," he says.
But, Shrock says Carticel, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997, isn't recommended for everyone.
"You need a stable knee and generally a lighter, younger patient is a good candidate. And of course you need to have one discreet area of cartilage that's missing, because if it's widespread arthritis, you can't possibly restore the entire surface," he says.
Patients should consult their doctor to find out whether they might benefit from the treatment. If they are good candidates, they need to locate a surgeon who has been trained to perform the Carticel procedure.
Rehabilitation includes extensive leg exercises to strengthen the muscles. Patients are required to use crutches for six to seven weeks and generally cannot engage in high-level activity until twelve months after the surgery.