Medical Advances and Breakthroughs
By Beth Howard
From easy knee repair to scar-free surgery, read about some of the latest medical breakthroughs that could change your life.
It's not every day, or even every decade, that research leads to a real medical breakthrough — the kind that revolutionizes the treatment of a disease or condition. But these cutting-edge therapies promise to do just that. And for the four women profiled here — who have been part of these exciting studies — the revolution has already happened.
Three years ago, Pixie Greenemeier, then 45, was doing a squat in her exercise class when she tore her right meniscus, the cartilage that cushions the bones of the knee. The injury was severe — Greenemeier, a mother of four and a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Denver, was in constant pain, which sometimes interfered with her responsibilities at work: "If I had to bend down to look at, say, an oxygen tank, it was a real ordeal to get back up."
Greenemeier thought arthroscopic surgery would help restore her active lifestyle — she also took rigorous self-defense classes — but there was so much damage ("In one area, it was basically bone on bone," she says), there was no way to repair it. Her only option, it seemed, was knee-replacement surgery.
Then Greenemeier learned about a new procedure that uses a patient's own stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues. Physicians extract bone marrow from your hip, grow special cells from it in the lab, and then inject them into the injured area of the ailing knee. Over the next several weeks, the cells differentiate into the type needed — in this case, cartilage. Plus, they "act like general contractors," says researcher Christopher Centeno, M.D., head of the Centeno-Schultz Pain Management Clinic in Broomfield, CO, who conducted trials on the procedure. "They can bring in other cells to help with repair or inflammation." This versatility makes stem cells potentially useful for fixing many problems; indeed, hundreds of studies are under way, testing the cells for everything from wound healing to heart repair.
For Greenemeier, the procedure has been life-changing. Although the injection of cells into her inflamed knee was somewhat painful, after three weeks, the discomfort and swelling eased. Strikingly, an MRI taken six months later, before a second injection, showed that the cartilage had grown by 40 percent. And the cartilage has kept on growing — now, two years later, it's increased about 70 percent.