Doctors closer to growing cartilage in lab

Ironically, it was his commitment to staying active that ended up costing Taylor Landgraf a few weeks on the couch. Hoping to get in a quick workout recently, he borrowed a roommate's skateboard to get to the gym - and ended up in Urgent Care.

"I started going down a hill that was probably a little bit too steep for a beginner, and wiped out going down the hill and I ended up tearing my meniscus and tearing cartilage in my knee as well," Taylor says. It may have only sidelined him for a few weeks, but doctors say with most injuries to knee cartilage, the effects can last for decades.

And, whether it's from an old injury or a new one, anyone with bad knees will tell you just going for a walk can be pretty painful. But if you need new cartilage, where are you going to get that? Doctors now say that someday they may be able to grow it in a lab.

"Unfortunately cartilage, once it's injured, it's really difficult to repair. We don't have an intrinsic healing potential for it," says Dr. David Flanigan of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center.

In other words, the cartilage doesn't heal or regrow on its own - at least not inside the body.So doctors are now testing human cartilage that was grown in a lab.

Six weeks ago, doctors took cartilage cells from a healthy part of Taylor's knee and sent those cells to a laboratory where scientists began growing them.

"They'll take that cell line and they'll just keep replicating and replicating and replicating until they have millions of cells," Dr. Flanigan explains. The result is a piece of living cartilage about the size of a quarter.

Once it was big enough, Dr. Flanigan sized it, cut it and, using a special adhesive, essentially glued it to the damaged part of Taylor's knee. There, doctors expect that it will grow into existing cartilage and completely heal the wound.

"What's really exciting is that if this actually can help improve function, improve outcomes for patients, it may be really the future of how we address cartilage," says Dr. Flanigan.

So, what's next? Doctors will continue to test it to see if it would really work for a lot of people. Every year, a quarter of a million people have surgery on their knees to repair damaged tissue.