London: Tiny spheres made from a patient`s own cells are now being used to treat arthritis - by growing new tissue at the damaged joints.
The technology has already been used in Italy to repair hip cartilage. Now, more than 200 people with knee arthritis are taking part in trials comparing the new treatment to conventional therapy.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage can become misshapen or worn away, leaving the bones exposed to rub against each other, the Daily Mail reported.
The problem is that cartilage, unlike many other tissues, cannot repair itself. As a result, patients need to either take painkillers to control their discomfort or, in severe cases, even require joint replacement surgery.
However, this new treatment - known as tissue engineering - may provide an alternative.
It is a fast-emerging technology, which is being used for a range of problems caused by injury, disease, genetic abnormality and ageing.
The replacement tissues are grown from living cells and, so far, skin blood vessels and bone have been grown in this way.
With this new cartilage treatment, cells called chondrocytes are taken from healthy cartilage in the patient.
They are cultured in the lab for five to seven weeks. During this time, the cells produce their own `scaffolding`, which means they grow into balls or spheres. This is significant as they give depth to the new tissue.
The spheres are then injected into the affected areas. Between 10 and 70 spheres are put into each square centimetre of damaged tissue - research shows the spheres knit together and grow into new cartilage lining.
After treatment, patients perform rehabilitation exercises, such as moving the knee in different ways, to get the joint working properly.
Trials using the technology in knees are now under way at the University of Mannheim and a number of centres in Germany.
If all goes well, the technology - developed by German biotech company co.don - could be more widely used within two years.
Jane Tadman of Arthritis Research UK said the technique of using a patient`s own cells to treat cartilage damage was currently the subject of a large clinical trial in Britain.
"Cartilage repair is a hugely exciting field and has enormous clinical potential for the millions of people with osteoarthritis," Tadman said.