What Actually Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that possess a unique characteristic allowing them to develop into specialized cells wherever your surgeon chooses to implant them in the body. They can regenerate or repair damaged tissue, which makes them a promising tool in all forms of medicine. Dr. Burke and his team offer The MACI Procedure, a stem cell procedure in which the sole purpose is to repair cartilage damage, which fixes most cases of knee pain. This procedure is not offered by all orthopedic surgeons.

Stem Cells Untrue Myths

A common misconception about stem cells is that they are only harvested from embryos. This is not true - adult stem cells come from a variety of tissues including bone marrow, adipose tissue, blood, or other healthy tissue.

These latter examples are ‘autologous’ stem cells and are the stem cells used in the MACI Procedure. Using autologous stem cells has advantages over the use of other types of stem cells. We take them from the patient's own body, lessening the chance of rejection or an immune response. These benefits make them a safer and more effective option for most stem cell procedures.

In the case of the MACI procedure, stem cells are harvested from a healthy piece of cartilage taken from a non-weight-bearing position of your knee.

The MACI Procedure Process

Matrix-induced autologous chondrocyte implantation (MACI) procedure is an example of using autologous stem cells to repair or replace cartilage damage in the knee, the most common cause of knee pain.

The MACI procedure is a 2-step process that first involves taking a sample of your cartilage cells, called chondrocytes, and shipping them off to a lab where they are specially treated, and seeded onto a collagen matrix. This step encourages the chondrocytes to grow into new, healthy cartilage.

When they are mature enough, the new cartilage grown on the collagen matrix is your MACI implant. The lab ships your MACI implant back to your surgeon and the second phase of the procedure can begin. The new cartilage is implanted into your knee joint and the new tissue melds with the surrounding tissues and repairs the area of damage.

MACI, Forever Changing How We See Stem Cells

The MACI procedure represents a major advancement in the use of autologous stem cells. Specifically in treating knee injuries. Historically, knee injuries were commonly treated with open surgery, which is invasive and requires a long recovery period. Conversely, MACI is a minimally invasive procedure that offers faster recovery time and better outcomes.

One last item to mention about how the MACI Procedure is changing the way we think about stem cells is that it demonstrates the potential for stem cell usage in a more targeted, specific way to treat an isolated area of the body.

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Expectations After MACI

Recovery from MACI is shorter and less painful than many other orthopedic surgeries. After completion of the second phase of the procedure, you will wake up wearing a brace on your leg. This brace is locked in a straightened position, which you need to wear for about 6 weeks.

You can unlock the brace for functional activity, i.e., bending the knee when sitting. Some weight-bearing on the leg is allowed as tolerated, but in general, your surgeon will advise you to limit the amount of weight you place on the knee.

During the recovery period, you will be advised to go to physical therapy to regain full range of motion and strength in and around the knee. Choosing not to receive PT is not recommended, but in such a case, we will provide you with targeted movements and detailed instructions on how often you should perform them.

Full range of motion, weight-bearing, and freedom from the brace can be expected within 8 to 12 weeks.

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