Super-fit Alan thought his days of fell-running were over when surgeons told him the articular cartilage in his knee had worn away and knee replacement surgery was his only option.
However, Alan decided to investigate further.
He ended up at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) in Oswestry as the first person to undergo surgery to repair his osteoarthritic knee with a combination of stem cells and chondrocytes. This is the procedure now to be trialled as part of the Arthritis Research UK programme grant.
‘I was very much a guinea pig and was told that if the operation didn’t work the first time, I could have it done again,’ says Alan. He paid privately to have the operation and was fully aware of the unpredictable outcome of such surgery.
The procedure involved two operations; first to take stem cells from his pelvis, which were grown in the laboratory, and the second to implant them back into his knee six weeks later.
Rehabilitation and running
Progress afterwards was slow and laborious. Alan was offered a full rehabilitation programme by the Oswestry team but also took advantage of help from close friend David Galley, a physiotherapist with Liverpool FC, who devised a rigorous exercise regime. Alan started as soon as he was off crutches six weeks after surgery.
For two years he did aqua jogging and then cycling, and lots of exercises to strengthen his quadriceps muscles. Then Alan started running again, taking part in a five-mile trail race.
'Since my surgery I’ve been running in a number of local races, and although the knee does get a bit sore, it’s about 90% better than it was before.'After suffering no ill-effects he started to run again in earnest. He completed the Grizedale Duathlon: four miles of fell running and a 14-mile bike ride, followed by a further four mile fell race. Although his knee was a little sore afterwards, an ice pack applied on the way home did the trick.
‘I’m very happy with it. I went back to hospital last year for an MRI scan and the cartilage had regrown. The nurse told me it was cartilage they would expect to see in a 30 or 40-year-old.’
Professor Richardson adds a word of warning: ‘Mr Bourne was heading for a joint replacement and so we considered it reasonable to try something that was a development of the work we have been doing at Oswestry for over 12 years. In the short-term he has a good result; I don’t know how long this will last.’
Mr Bourne’s experience is not likely to be repeated as the RJAH is not planning to perform the procedure on any other patient, either privately or on the NHS, outside the planned clinical trial.