Meniscus Treatment Using 3D Printing

It sounds amazing, but it the not-too-distant future, we may be able to replace a torn meniscus cartilage in the knee with a personalized implant made with a 3-D printer. A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries, affecting millions of Americans each year.

The meniscus is the wedge-shaped cartilage between the shin and thigh bones that cushions and protects the joint. If it tears and needs to be removed, either partially or completely, the knee loses that cushioning and becomes more prone to developing arthritis.

Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery and Columbia University Medical Center are working on replicating the knee’s protective cartilage using a personalized implant made with a 3-D printer. Three-D printing is a process that makes three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The 3D-printed object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is formed.

The goal is to make an exact replica of a patient’s meniscus with a perfect fit to provide an effective and long-lasting repair, lowering the risk of arthritis.

We are working with researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, who have created a 3-D printed implant, or scaffold, which is infused with human growth factors that should prompt the body to regenerate the meniscus on its own.

The process begins with MRI scans of the meniscus in the uninjured knee. The scans are then converted into a 3-D image and put into the 3-D printer, which produces a scaffold in the exact shape of the meniscus. It takes about 30 minutes to print.

The scaffold is made of a biodegradable polymer that is also used to make surgical sutures. It is infused with two human proteins that attract stem cells from the body and induce them to form meniscal tissue. The personalized meniscus scaffolds could potentially be completed within a matter of days.

Once the scaffold is inserted into the knee, meniscus tissue regenerates over the next several months. The scaffold later dissolves and is eliminated by the body, and the new meniscus remains.

This research, although preliminary, represents an innovative approach to meniscus regeneration and could potentially be applicable to the many thousands of patients who undergo meniscus removal each year.

The research study was recently published in the online edition of Science Translational Medicine, and clinical trials could be a couple of years away.

Dr. Scott Rodeo is an orthopedic surgeon and the co-chief emeritus of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He specializes in sports medicine injuries of the knee, shoulder, ankle, and elbow. Dr. Rodeo is associate team physician for the New York Giants and has taken care of the team through three Super Bowl appearances.

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  1. As with the others in this thread, I’d love to be considered for a clinical trial of this nature. I damaged medial meniscus in college (along with ACL and MCL) and have managed to go 30 years on the repairs. However, the meniscus erosion over time has led to increasing joint instability and early stage osteo-arthritis. I still manage to hike at least 5 miles each weekend and snowboarded through the 2014 season so I’m otherwise fit and healthy (non-smoker, non-obese, etc.).

  2. I’m a 56 year old mini rower. No major health problems. Have a tear of the medial meniscus for the first time ever. If you happen to be building a list of possible candidates for the clinical trial it would be great to know how I can ‘stay in the know’. I’ve been reading about a center out in California that does meniscus transplants but my cousin had hip surgery at your hospital and highly recommended it. I’m from another major city in New York but we don’t have any thoughts of this yet here.

    1. Hi Patricia- To determine potential candidates for our trial, patients would undergo an examination of the knee to make a firm diagnosis and evaluate suitability for a transplant approach. In particular, our team would look at the degree of concurrent degenerative changes, knee alignment, and knee stability.

  3. I am a 51 year old runner, otherwise healthy. Recently have been diagnosed with MMPRT of the R knee. No arthritis yet! Could I be evaluated to be part of the clinical trial for this device? Is there another type of scaffolding (less high tech perhaps) that exists and could be used?

    1. We are not yet at the point of a clinical trial with this meniscus replacement device. Stay tuned for further details as to when they’ll begin.

  4. Hi, I am 59 year old female. Six years ago I fell on the ice, and injured my knee, and they had to remove part of my meniscus, because I waited too long to go get it fixed, and it was smashed out on one side, and they had to remove, it instead of repair it.. After 6 years, arthritis has set in, with many spurs. Is this procedure still available, with so much arthritis, bone on bone, shortening of the ligament, and a fluid filled cyst behind the knee? I would absolutely be a great one to try this on, to see if it will rebuild a new meniscus.. I have scheduled surgery October, for a total knee replacement, but am terrified it will be worse after this barbaric procedure. Please let me know if I can be in your clinical trials! I am holding off on the TKR surgery, since reading this new procedure is almost ready for trials! Please let me know if it is possible for me to do this, or is it too far gone? Thank you so much, Best Regards

    1. Hi Donna – We are not yet at the point of a clinical trial with this meniscus replacement device. Furthermore, if there is end-stage arthritis, the chances are that the knee is too degenerative for a predictable solution other than TKR. -Dr. Rodeo

  5. I have been watching this ground breaking procedure since i first seen ìt in late 2014 with great interest , i have had medial meniscus tears removed from both knees a few years ago and still with bad pain. Last mri showed early arthritis starting already ! Im only 30.
    How can i find out how to apply for clinical trials on this procedure? Will dr scott be the surgeon? Would be forever grateful for this chance to heal my knees and get back to what makes mee feel alive.

    1. Hi Billy-Joe, thank you for reaching out. The procedure is a year or more away from clinical trials. Stay tuned for further details as to when they’ll begin.

  6. Would the replacement meniscus procedure work better if it is done at the same time as the meniscectomy or would it not matter if one has the meniscectomy first and a year later has the procedure to form the new meniscus?
    In other words, should I try to wait to have the partial meniscectomy that I need until the new procedure is ready for me?

  7. Hi
    Sounds very exciting, im with previous commenter ( not that you’ll not have a queue for trials i imagine! )
    Extreme sports enthusiast, now 2 menisectomys in and one knee particularly painful – this sounds like the dream.

    1. Hi Jonathan, thank you for reaching out and sharing your enthusiasm! The procedure is a year or more away from clinical trials. Stay tuned for further details as to when they’ll begin.

    1. Hi Francis, thank you for reaching out. The procedure is still a year or more away from clinical trials. Stay tuned for further details as to when they’ll begin.

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