Stem Cells Used to Treat Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head – Yale School of Medicine

Collapsed femoral heads caused by osteonecrosisotherwise known as avascular necrosis unfortunately represent the root cause for approximately 10% of all hip replacements nationwide. Daniel Wiznia, MD, is utilizing a stem cell treatment at Yale School of Medicine and integrating new techniques along with 3D imaging technology as part of a joint-preservation procedure.

Occurring in more than 20,000 Americans each year, osteonecrosis of the femoral head is commonly diagnosed in patients in their 30s and 40s. The disease is caused by injury of the blood supply to the head of the femur, which is the ball portion of the hips ball and socket joint.

If unaddressed, this disease may ultimately lead to the collapse of the femoral head, requiring the patient to undergo a hip replacement. For patients in this age group, a total hip replacement is not ideal as it likely will wear out and the patient will require more surgery.

The goal for each case is clear: prevent the femoral head from collapsing and the need for a hip replacement. As part of a surgical procedure, Wiznia harvests bone marrow from the patients pelvis. The individuals own stem cells are then isolated from the marrow, concentrated, and injected into lesions within the avascular portion of the femura treatment that is only taking place at some of the nations largest medical centers.

The key in these instances is to discover the avascular necrosis before the head collapses, Wiznia said. Because the vascular injury is usually a painless event, patients are generally unaware of the specific point in time when the vascular injury occurred, which is why cases are rarely discovered in time. However, we do know that 80% of patients who have avascular necrosis on one side of the hip have it on the opposite side. We usually are able to catch that second asymptomatic side in those situations and conduct the core decompression with stem cell treatment before it collapses.

According to Wiznia, this treatment reduces the risk of the head of the femur from collapsing, and the stem cell therapy has shown promising results. Soon after the procedure, many patients with avascular necrosis experience rejuvenated blood supply to the area and the bone is repopulated with new cells. This can additionally alleviate the short-term need for a hip replacement.

This novel stem cell therapy has demonstrated improved pain and function, and the stem cells decrease the risk of the femoral head from collapsing, Wiznia said. This translates into fewer young patients requiring hip replacements, and subsequent surgeries in their later years.

As an engineer himself, Wiznia works closely with the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the Integrated 3D Surgical Team to better tailor this treatment to each specific patient.

One of the challenges of orthopaedic surgery in the human body is that surgeons are operating in a three-dimensional space and are often reliant on two-dimensional imagery such as X-rays, Wiznia added. Through the use of computer modeling, we are able to customize those images and create models that are specific to each patient, which, in turn, enhances outcomes and overall post-operative success rates.

Enhanced models and 3D imaging enable surgeons like Wiznia to better locate and target both the lesions and necrotized bone in these instances. Effectively doing so regenerates the femoral head and stimulates new osteoblast growth, which will heal the region, maintain the integrity of the joint, and decrease the chance of femoral head collapse and need for a hip replacement.

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Stem Cells Used to Treat Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head - Yale School of Medicine

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