By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is new help for people who suffer with knee pain and stiffness caused by the loss of cartilage.

This scientific advance marks the first time where a patient’s own healthy tissue is used to grow new cells through a process of tissue engineering.

Millions of people struggle with knee pain related to cartilage breaking down…

“It was quite painful, sports were difficult, and then walking became an issue,” said Chris.

Chris was too young for knee replacement surgery, but was a candidate for a new technique called matrix autologous chondrocyte implantation or MACI.

Chris’ own cartilage cells were grown in a lab and placed on to a collagen membrane, then surgeons  cut the membrane to size and filled holes in the cartilage of the knee, much like filling a pothole. Over time, those cells grow and develop into mature cartilage.

“We can template, cut and paste the membrane preloaded with cells into the base of the defect and just glue it there,” said Dr. Tom Minas, an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That makes it technically much quicker, much easier.”

The technique has been overseas for years, but was just FDA approved in December. Chris is the first patient in the U.S. to have it.

For Chris, who has had many surgeries before, MACI was almost a breeze.

“It’s been very easy comparatively,” he said.

While Chris had a rare condition, the MACI procedure could also be used to treat cartilage loss from ACL injuries and early arthritis.

Recovery associated with MACI is a little longer than with other interventions. It takes about a year for patients to get back to most activities and 18 months for higher impact sports.

Most insurance companies cover the surgery.

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