In the U.S., over 30 million adults suffer from the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis. That’s one in every eight adults.
Often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, the condition commonly affects larger, weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees, but it can manifest in the upper limbs too. Slowly but surely, the cartilage within a joint breaks down, depriving the joint of cushioning. And as you might know, it only gets worse over time, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduction in joint mobility.
Body fat to the rescue
The good news is, experts are working on a breakthrough method of treatment that uses aspirated body fat from the patient to cushion their joints.
“Fat has the ability to be a source of important cells which produce important proteins involved with healing and reduction in inflammation,” explained Dr. Brian Cole, professor of orthopedic surgery. He is a section head of the Rush Cartilage Restoration Center at Rush University Medical Center.
A new device (and process) called Lipogems gently suctions, processes, and uses a patient’s own fat tissue to provide a potential source of stem cells and growth factors to promote healing. The Lipogems method consists of a single-use sterile kit for the lipo-aspiration, processing, and deployment of adipose (fat) tissue.
During the process, fat cells are aspirated into the kit from the abdomen or thigh, while the patient is sedated with a local anesthetic. In the kit, the aspirated body fat is altered with the help of a saline solution. The saline rinses and cleans inflammatory oils and blood from the fat but retains the proteins needed to heal tissue.
The doctors then inject this harvested and altered fat precisely into the patient’s injured areas, using ultrasound guidance. It is especially effective for areas where there are soft tissue defects such as partial rotator cuff tears, patella tendon tears, labral tears, meniscal tears, and knee arthritis.
Advantages over traditional surgery
The entire procedure, from harvesting the fat, processing, and injecting it into affected joint takes 25–30 minutes.
In the joint, the altered fat remains in the area of injection rather than being immediately reabsorbed by the body. This allows the joint to get the maximum benefit of the injection. After injection, the altered fat promotes tissue healing in the joints. The patient can notice symptom reduction in as little as three weeks.
The Lipogems device was chosen as one of the eleven Best Sport Medicine Technologies for 2016 by Orthopedics This Week. More importantly, it received FDA approval for the treatment of arthritis.
According to Dr. Cole, “The technology is ideal for patients with certain orthopedic conditions, such as painful joints—including the knee, ankle, or shoulder—with limited range of motion. Additionally, it can be used in soft tissue defects located in tendons, ligaments, and/or muscles to improve the biologic environment.”
The treatment can be used when standard options—such as steroid injections or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—don’t provide enough relief. This new breakthrough can be used as an alternative to surgery or even to augment the benefits of surgery.