Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK and is often found in the elderly. It is a painful condition, which has had little chance of being treated successfully in the past, but there is hope on the horizon. A new procedure has been developed using the patient’s own body fat to rectify the area that is affected.
The condition is a result of a roughening of the cartilage that covers the bone at either end. It becomes thin in contrast to the bone, which thickens, creating a painful combination that can be debilitating for some. More than eight million people in the UK have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, according to Arthritis Research UK.
This could be a thing of the past, however, as experts have had a breakthrough in the treatment of bone joint conditions, which include osteoarthritis. A procedure using a newly developed device gently suctions the patient’s body fat from a different part of the body and processes it before having it injected into the afflicted area.
As a result, these stem cells and growth factors promote healing and return mobility to joints. The use of Lipogems – the new device developed specifically for this purpose – has now been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US and could be introduced elsewhere in the world.
Dr Brian Cole, professor of orthopedic surgery and section head of the Rush Cartilage Restoration Center at Rush University Medical Centre, said: "The technology is ideal for patients with certain orthopedic conditions, such as painful joints - including the knee, ankle or shoulder - with limited range of motion.
“Additionally, it can be used in soft tissue defects located in tendons, ligaments, and/or muscles to improve the biologic environment. Fat has long been used for support of tissue repair and replacement. Fat has the ability to be a source of important cells which produce important proteins involved with healing and reduction in inflammation."
The abdomen and thigh are good areas from which to harvest the fat cells and can be taken while the patient is either sedated or under local anaesthetic. Keeping the beneficial properties of the fat tissue, the Lipogem rinses and cleans the blood and any inflammatory oils from the sample before it is injected into the joint requiring treatment.
Instead of being reabsorbed by the body, the fat remains in the affected area for an extended period of time, allowing it to benefit from the injection. Patients can see improvements within three weeks of having the treatment, with symptoms reducing as the healing continues. It is a good alternative to steroid injections and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can often fall short of the mark in terms of pain relief.
The difference to the lives of the elderly who undergo the treatment could be considerable, offering them more independence to carry out tasks on their own. Also, a day without pain is a much more fulfilled one and can have wider health benefits as the general mood and outlook is improved.