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Bum Knees Take Growing Toll on Graying Boomers

Chicago Sun-Times—June 4, 2006

As baby boomers age, more are suffering from arthritis.  Many of these patients are undergoing surgery to get artificial knees made of high-performance metal and plastic.

In 2003, more than 400,000 patients in the United States had knee replacements, more than double the number from 1993.  And by 2030, the number could increase more than eightfold to 3.5 million, according to a recent study presented at an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting.

Artificial knees consist of pieces of metal and polyethylene plastic that typically cost $3,000 or $4,000.

Even with the popularity of this procedure, it does have its downfalls.  Artificial knees can wear out after 15 or 20 years.  A worn-out artificial knee can be replaced, but the second artificial knee is less likely to be as successful as the first. 

Farther down the road, however, “biologic” knee replacements might prove superior to knees made of metal and plastic.  For example, researchers are trying to grow cartilage from stem cells and use the tissue to resurface arthritic knee joints, said Thomas P. Sculco, M.D., Surgeon-in-Chief at Hospital for Special Surgery.

"Such solutions probably are 10 or 15 years away," Sculco said.  "That’s ultimately where we want to get to."

Story originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times.


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