Stem cells have been used to regrow the missing sections of a karate champion’s knee in a breakthrough Melbourne case that raises hopes for the wider use of the technique. Stephanie Harris, 30, plans to resume training later this year after stem cells were injected into a knee, resulting in cartilage growth filling a 1cm hole that could not be repaired by surgery or traditional medical treatments.
The extraordinary regrowth of Ms Harris’s knee cartilage came as a world-first stem cell trial continues at Melbourne Stem Cell Centre.
The trial has resulted in about 70 per cent of patients being able to stabilise conditions, such as osteoarthritis, reduce pain and improve function. The 2016 experimental treatment has given Ms Harris back her career as a personal trainer, a pain-free life, and the hope others may be able to benefit in the future.
“Probably about six months after (the procedure), I started to notice I could have free movement,” Ms Harris said.
“It just felt better and then a year later I had a lot better movement and could actually stand up and sit down like a normal person, without having to shift to one side.
“It hasn’t deteriorated or anything and the cartilage is just going to keep maturing.
“I have seen enough improvement in myself to know that by the end of the year, I will be able to train again.” Stephanie Harris is thankful for the chance to fight again.
Melbourne Stem Cell Centre lead researcher Assoc Prof Dr Julien Freitag said Ms Harris was a unique case as a young national-level athlete with a traumatic knee injury that could be disabling for the rest of her life. “For her to have regrown an entire area of cartilage lost, for her pain and function to have improved significantly to the point where she can now work and pursue her sport and leisure pursuits as she would like, is just a fantastic outcome,” Dr Freitag said.
Ms Harris’s recovery was last week published in the BMJ Case Reportsjournal. MRI scans show complete cartilage regeneration. Researchers concluded the case provided an indication mesenchymal stem-cell therapy might offer a treatment for similar conditions.
The Melbourne clinic is also undertaking two separate trials involving 70 patients receiving stem-cell treatment to overcome joint conditions but, while seven out of 10 patients had a measurable benefit, Assoc Prof Freitag said the results were more modest at this stage.
After having a promising karate career taken away when she landed awkwardly at the 2014 National Karate Championships, Ms Harris is thankful for the chance to fight again.
“I just wanted to finish my career on my terms because I felt when I had that injury, it was taken from me prematurely,” she said.