No matter what your age, when cartilage begins to wear out around our knees or becomes damaged, it can limit our movement and cause serious pain.  Now, a new technique using stem cells from donor umbilical cords, typically discarded after birth, could help young patients rebuild cartilage and reduce pain.

Chasing after his son, Jimmy hasn't been easy for Jim Hackett.  He says he a couple years down the road he would still like to be able to run around with him.  But he knew at the rate he was going, that wasn’t going to happen.   Years working as a police officer have taken a toll on his knees.  

According to Dr. Brian Cole, "it just gets to the point where your knee just says enough and you end up with cartilage problems."  Dr. Cole is using stem cells to repair Jim's cartilage.   "Several small holes are made into the bone to make it bleed intentionally and in that blood are our own body's stem cells that lay down fibrocartilage or scar cartilage," said Dr. Cole.  Then stem cells from umbilical cord blood are combined with hyaluronic acid, a building block of cartilage. 

And, the doctor says, "the hope is through acting as a regulator, in that area, they can actually improve the healing response."   Today, Jim is back on his feet and says his knees are great.  He says he’s able to kneel now.  Before surgery he couldn’t.   But the best news is he’s ready to keep up with little Jimmy. 

The therapy's been approved in South Korea and preliminary results in the U-S are promising.  The best patients for the procedure are under the age of 45 with small localized areas of cartilage damage.  It's not meant for older patients with arthritis or in place of a knee replacement.


BACKGROUND: Cartilage damage in the knee is something that affects more than 12 million people a year. Medically termed articular cartilage, this firm and rubbery material is a shield that protects the bones and acts as a “shock absorber”. Those who damage their cartilage or have cartilage that is deteriorating will some times experience pain and they will notice a decrease in range of motion in the knee. If the cartilage is not taken care of and worsens, a patient may have to undergo specific treatment or surgery. Articular cartilage damage can also occur in the hip, shoulder, elbow, ankle, and wrist.  (Source:


SYMPTOMS: Patients who suffer from articular cartilage damage will notice symptoms of inflammation, a change in range of motion, and stiffness. When the knee becomes inflamed, it may also feel sore and tender. This is the most common indication that the cartilage is being compromised. If a patient takes note of the fact that their range of motion in the knee has changed, there is a good chance that the cartilage is deteriorating and attention needs to be brought to the injury. Lastly, if stiffness occurs in the knee, and it becomes more of a challenge to perform daily functions, rather than a natural movement, then it is time to see a doctor. (Source:


TREATMENT: To treat damaged knee cartilage, a patient can opt for a non-surgical or surgical treatment. Decisions are made between patients and doctors and will vary depending on the severity of the injury. If a patient seeks to have surgery or try a non-surgical treatment, he or she will test the following options:


Non-surgical options:

  • Painkillers
  • Lifestyle Changes
  • A supportive device, like a cane


Surgical treatment options:


NEW TREATMENT: Stem cells are now being used to treat damaged cartilage in the knees. A study out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is working on using patients’ own blood vessels to improve the function of cartilage. The stem cells in the blood are inserted in the bone through tiny holes that are created by the surgeon. This stimulates the cartilage and can repair damage. The study will not work for patients who have bone arthritis or who are in need of a knee replacement. (Source:




Mukesh Ahuja

Research Administrator

The Cartilage Restoration Center