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.
Although not every patient is so lucky, among a group of 50 people slated
for knee replacement in Dr. Centeno's pilot study, almost 90 percent had at
least a 50 percent improvement in function and pain. And for half of these
volunteers, the improvement was 75 percent. Next up: a randomized, controlled
Today, Greenemeier can work — and work out — without pain. She's enjoying
all her favorite fitness activities, including deep squats at her conditioning
classes. "I can go all the way down again," she reports. And her 12-hour shifts
at the hospital are not a problem. "The other day, I finished and my knee was a
little sore," she says. "Then I realized it was my left knee — not the