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New NHS funding for alternative treatment could prevent knee osteoarthritis

Arthritis Today Spring 2018 Issue 175A knee being bandaged after surgeryAn innovative treatment for repairing damaged knee cartilage using cell transplantation will now be funded by the NHS, following approval from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). The Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation treatment, more commonly known as ACI, has been developed and trialled during two decades of groundbreaking research supported by Arthritis Research UK.

ACI treatment could be life-changing for the estimated 500 people each year who develop a specific type of cartilage damage, usually following a sports injury in their 20s or 30s, which leads to painful knee osteoarthritis.

Until now the only treatment for this type of knee defect would be total joint replacement, a surgery not recommended for people under the age of 50. By treating the problem at an earlier stage, with less invasive surgery, it's hoped the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis in later life will be prevented or delayed.

What does ACI involve?

ACI involves the collection of healthy cartilage cells from inside the patient’s knee, which are then grown in lab conditions for several weeks, multiplying at least 20 times. A second operation is then carried out to remove the damaged part of the cartilage and the healthy cells are implanted in its place. The cells anchor themselves to the bone within 24 hours, "growing" new cartilage at the damaged site. A patient can expect to return to normal everyday use of their knee in three months and full activities, including sports, within a year.

The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) in Shropshire ran trials for ACI over a 20-year period, working in partnership with Keele University and the Oswestry-based Orthopaedic Institute. Patients from all over the UK who meet the eligibility criteria and have the support of their orthopaedic surgeon will be accepted at RJAH for treatment.

"Positive news"

Arthritis Research UK’s Director of Research Stephen Simpson says: "It's certainly positive news that thanks to the valuable research in this area, ACI is being made available on the NHS. This means more people with this type of cartilage damage or early osteoarthritis will be able to access and potentially benefit from this treatment.

"Through the research we fund we’re determined to prevent the devastating impact arthritis can have on daily life. This development is a fantastic example of how our funded research can deliver clinical advances and help more people to live the pain free life they deserve."

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