Docs look to biology, not hardware, for future

Stem cell and other regenerative therapies may change treatment—SAN FRANCISCO—March 6, 2008

The orthopedics industry is using more biology and less metal to repair injured and diseased joints.

Researchers attending the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in San Francisco this week said they are slowly unlocking the doors to regenerative medicine using stem cells, gene therapy and tissue engineering.

Historically, the orthopedist's arsenal looked much like a carpenter's. It was dominated by heavy metal — cages, screws, saws, drills and metal implants for joints such as hips and knees.

The undifferentiated, unspecialized stem cells can morph into specialized cells with specific functions in the body. Adult stem cells are available from a number of sources, including bone marrow and fat.

Stem cells from a patient's own body are being used to repair bones, ligaments, cartilage, muscle, spinal cord and nerves.

Dr. Scott Rodeo, co-chief of Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and an associate team physician for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, said animal studies suggest that stem cells and bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs) can be used to repair rotator cuff tears in the shoulder, a common sports injury that often requires surgery.

BMPs are a group of growth factors and cytokines known for their ability to induce the formation of bone and cartilage.

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