New treatment for a common knee injury

Dr Sudheesh Kumar

New stem cell research at Griffith University is creating hope for sufferers of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, the most common of knee injuries.

Australia, a strong sporting nation, has one of the highest rates of the ACL injury with roughly 10,000 cases reported per year.
The traditional reconstruction technique involves two surgical procedures which typically result in good to excellent results in only 60 per cent of patients.

However, in conjunction with the Gold Coast University Hospital and Queensland University of Technology, Dr Sudheesh Kumar from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ), and Dr Cédryck Vaquette from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, are pioneering a technique to grow stem cells to produce new ligament tissue for the damaged ACL.

Supported by Gold Coast University Foundation funding, the team is using a novel strategy in which the ligament tissue is being generated in the lab using advanced tissue bioengineering techniques.

“We are using FDA-approved polymer scaffolds which provide mechanical support to the stem cells which are placed on them,” says Dr Kumar, a post-doctoral researcher.

“Once this is done, it takes about 3-4 weeks to develop a mature cell sheet. The celluarised scaffold is rolled into a cylinder, creating a ligament-like bundle which is further braided into a ligament graft tissue.

A novel alternative

“This will provide a novel alternative for the treatment of ACL while reducing the current side effects experienced by patients undergoing reconstructive surgery.”

Dr Kumar says he expects the research to expand into pre-clinical trials within the next month.

“So far we have seen some very encouraging results, the implications of which could have some significant benefits for ACL patients,” he says. “The success of these trials will mean that we can isolate stem cells from a patient’s own body with which we can regenerate their own tissue in vitro, and then implant back into their knee via arthroscopy.

“The best aspects of this treatment will be that patients will not suffer any immune rejection issues and they will not have any harmful effects from the polymer scaffold as it is inert and degrades over several years.

“There will also be less morbidity as the surgeon will not have to harvest an autologous tissue which is a tissue grafted into a new position in or on the body of the same person.”