BOSTON (CBS) - Arthritis is usually thought to affect older people, but young adults can suffer from it, too. Dr. Mallika Marshall moderated a panel Thursday at Brigham and Women's Hospital on regenerative medicine, specifically looking at innovative ways to treat young patients with arthritis. One such treatment uses stems cells harvested from umbilical cords.
After years of playing football and tennis, the cartilage in Sean Fair's right knee had worn down to almost nothing. He had essentially developed arthritis and at only 30 years old, and was facing a lifetime of pain.
"It took a moment to wrap my brain around that," says Sean.
Too young to have a knee replacement, Sean became one of the first patients to take part in a clinical trial studying the use of stem cells to heal injured knees.
Dr. Andreas Gomoll is an orthopedic surgeon at the Brigham, the co-director of the BWH Center for Regenerative Medicine and Sean's doctor.
"What's key about stem cells that is different from grown cells that we have in our bodies is that they still can become anything," says Dr. Gomoll.
That includes bone and cartilage, and the stem cells could even produce growth factors that could help heal the entire joint, not just knees, but perhaps ankles, hips and shoulders one day.
Initial results suggest the treatment is both safe and effective.
"This probably is the most promising thing I've seen in a long time," says Dr. Gomoll.
Two and half years after receiving stem cells in his knee, Sean has noticed a dramatic difference. He can now sleep comfortably and enjoy time with his kids.
"The pain is much less," says Sean. "I can bend it. I can actually squat and play with my kids which I could never do before."
The Brigham hopes to begin phase three clinical trials in about a year. The procedure is currently available in Korea but must pass muster with the FDA before it can be offered here in the U.S.
for more features.