Can stem cells from belly fat repair injured knees?


"When I was playing basketball, I made a pivot stop and it just tore," Jesse Flores said.

And it keeps happening. So Flores just had his sixth surgery on his right knee and will soon have a second surgery on his left knee.

"I want the stem cells to try and regrow the cartilage so this doesn't keep on happening," Flores said.

He's talking about stem cells taken from his own belly fat. It's the same procedure that InGeneron, a Houston company, performed on the zoo's black leopard to help with arthritic joints. Now they are testing it to see if fat cells from your belly and help the cartilage in an injured human knee.

"Theoretically, we should be able to get them back to where they were before the injury, which is their normal knee status," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Burke said.

Fifty people will be in the stem cell study. Half will have surgery, plus stem cells. Half will just have the surgery. Then they'll compare them in six months and 12 months.

"What we want to be able to do is aid the cartilage to be able to heal itself," Dr. Burke said.

To help it heal, they filter the fat and filter to find just the stem cells. The stem cells are typically found in the pink fluid, and a single injection of them seems to reduce post-surgery swelling and stimulate the new cartilage to grow. They may also help prevent arthritis in the future -- all from a tiny cut in the belly.

"We've had no cosmetic issues at all, there's been no pain at the harvest site. Actually most patients want me to take more," Dr. Burke said.

How could this not be a win-win situation? Less belly fat and new cartilage in an injured knee? In six months, they'll know for sure.

Volunteers for the knee study can call Dr. Burke at 713-436-3488. He's the orthopedic surgeon who is conducting the study on the knees. He will determine who qualifies for the study.

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