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HYGEIA: New technique for osteoarthritis treatment using stem cells

16 May 2018

A procedure involving the injection of adipose-derived stem cells into the knee joint of a patient under arthroscopic guidance to treat osteoarthritis was performed for the first time in Greece at HYGEIA Hospital.

The procedure lasted half an hour. It included mini-liposuction of adipose tissue from the subumbilical region and harvesting of stem cells without processing, based on the technique developed by leading biotechnology company Harvest-Terumo BCT.

The mesenchymal stem cells were injected intra-articularly in the knee of a patient suffering from stage 3 osteoarthritis, under arthroscopic guidance. Mild arthroscopic debridement of the knee had been performed in advance. The entire procedure was performed in one session by Mr Dimitris Tsoukas, orthopedic surgeon and scientific associate at HYGEIA Hospital, who has been certified by Harvest-Terumo BCT, and his team. The patient was discharged two hours postoperatively. He was able to walk normally and return to his daily activities immediately.

The benefits of the method include: painless technique for extracting adipose tissue from the abdomen via mini-liposuction, without an incision; harvesting of stem cells on the spot without processing or admixture with medications; high number and high viability of stem cells, as evaluated through special tests; and no complications, since the material used is autologous, i.e. harvested from the patient.

As noted by Mr Tsoukas, “This method is innovative as it isolates the stem cells from the fat within the operating room. The stem cells are then injected under arthroscopic guidance. Adult mesenchymal stem cells have a strong local anti-inflammatory and paracrine action, meaning that they attract factors that promote healing to the wound site. They also regenerate cartilage to an extent. This action of stem cells results in reduced pain and better function of the joint. It also delays the progression of arthritis and the degeneration it causes, meaning the destruction of the joint.”

Adult mesenchymal stem cells are mainly found in bone marrow and fat. However, adipose stem cells are greater in number and more active, given that bone marrow follows the aging of the body. Bone marrow stem cells are preferable for younger people, while adipose stem cells are better for middle-aged and elderly patients. They are mainly indicated for arthritis of large joints, either due to injury or to degeneration over time, which cannot improve with medication or physiotherapy and is not at such an advanced stage that would require joint reconstruction.