World first cartilage treatment at UK hospital

17 December 2009

Spire Alexandra Hospital in Kent is providing a groundbreaking new treatment for cartilage defects — the first of its kind worldwide.

The treatment enables damaged cartilage to be replaced by a specially developed purified atelocollagen gel which is pliable and can be manipulated to the precise size and shape needed for each individual patient.

The Cartifill technique could benefit around 9,000 people each year — that’s nine per cent of the 100,000 people in the UK who have cartilage injuries that warrant repair.

The procedure is minimally invasive and can be carried out as a day case, with an estimated recovery time for the patient of up to six weeks. By contrast, alternative treatments such as knee arthroscopy involve a three to four day hospital stay and a minimum of eight weeks recovery.

The new Cartifill procedure has been developed in partnership between Spire Healthcare, the UK’s second largest private hospital group, and South Korean bio-medical company, RMS (Regenerative Medical System), a part of the Sewon Collontech family which is the leading international provider of stem cell harvesting and transplantation treatments.

Spire Healthcare’s Director of Clinical Services, Dr Jean-Jacques de Gorter, explains: “Spire Healthcare is committed to supporting the development of new and innovative procedures, helping to keep the UK at the forefront of medical provision on a global level. This ultimately means our patients can benefit from less invasive interventions and quicker recovery.

“The state-of-the-art scanners across our network of modern hospitals enable us to introduce new surgical techniques such as Cartifill. In this case, the MRI T2 mapping scanner at Spire Alexandra Hospital allows the surgical team to see the exact areas of damaged and healthy cartilage. This means the repair is far more specific and tailored to the patient’s exact needs.”

Dr de Gorter adds: “We’re delighted to be at the forefront of this innovative technique, and are already receiving referrals from doctors around the world wanting their patients to travel to the UK to undergo this procedure.”

While RMS works in partnership with major healthcare providers worldwide, it felt it important to launch Cartifill in the UK. Dr Seok-jung Kim, Director of RMS and a recognised pioneer in the biotech field, explains: “Launching Cartifill is a big step for us. The UK has an international reputation as being at the frontier in medical technology. Medical intervention here is vigorously regulated through which exceptionally high standards are maintained. We respect this and it comes as a gesture of international recognition that RMS has been approved to operate here in Britain.”

The procedure itself is carried out by Mr Anan Shetty, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon who specialises in knee surgery. Mr Shetty, who is the only surgeon worldwide who has been trained to carry out this procedure, said: “This is a very exciting advancement in orthopaedic surgery — particularly knee surgery as the Cartifill technique is predominantly beneficial to patients with cartilage damage to the patella (knee cap).

“There is no blood supply to cartilage so the body cannot generate new cells when it experiences cartilage injury. While the current chondral autograft has some very good outcome results, it does not do well for treatment to the patella so this is an area where this new technique could revolutionise treatment of younger or particularly active patients in need of knee replacement.”

Mr Shetty, who is also Senior Lecturer at Kings’ College, London, continues: “The unique atelocollagen gel uses natural biomaterials as opposed to synthetic material like hydrogel, which makes it immunologically safe. It also contains natural regenerative properties.”

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently being approached to consider accepting the Cartifill procedure; after which Spire Healthcare plans to train consultant orthopaedic surgeons at other Spire Hospitals across the UK.

The procedure is covered by private medical insurers as well as being available for self-paying patients for a fixed price which is agreed in advance.


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