While it might sound great to have a brand new knee if you suffer from severe arthritis, knee replacement surgery is pretty severe. Soon, you may have more options available than just surgery. There is a new slate of medical options being discovered at the Andrews Institute to treat arthritis through minimally invasive procedures.

Along with Emory University, Duke University, and Sanford Health, the Andrews Research and Education Foundation (AREF) is conducting a research study comparing three different kinds of stem cells with the current gold standard treatment for arthritis – corticosteroid injections. 

Many patients with osteoarthritis in the knee eventually require surgery as their condition worsens. This study is looking at ways to prevent the need for knee replacement surgery through the use of stem cells to help the knee cartilage repair itself. 

As part of the study, participants receive injections of stem cells from their own belly fat (adipose tissue), bone marrow, or stem cells from a tissue donor. The control group receives the traditional steroid shot. Study participants are then monitored at different intervals over the next few years by MRI screenings to measure what, if any, improvement is taking place in the knee joint.

Dr. Josh Hackel, who is the principal investigator for this study at Andrews, became interested in sports medicine after having multiple knee surgeries while still in high school. 

I did my ninth-grade science project about my own knee surgery, with a poster presentation that documented the recovery. I still have it framed in my office,” said Hackel. 

Thirty years later his fascination with optimal knee function hasn’t abated. While his surgeries were a positive experience, Dr. Hackel now focuses on non-surgical treatments, which allows him to be a “one-stop shop” of quick diagnosis, minimally invasive treatments, and a return to health. Patients don’t have to wait to make a separate appointment to get an MRI for treatment. Hackel can use ultrasound technology, often on the first visit, to diagnose the patient’s condition and begin planning and executing a course of treatment.

Dr. Hackel explains that, “the Andrews Institute was built based on the principle that we would not only focus on patient and physician education, but also work to investigate and prove better, safer ways to treat musculoskeletal injuries. If we can do that, we can return the patient back to their normal activities faster, with less pain and less risk of reinjury or infection.”

Since roughly one in four Americans suffer from arthritis, having an institution on the forefront of orthopedic and regenerative medicine, pain relief, and regeneration is a boon for residents in the Gulf Coast area and beyond.

Dr. Hackel sums up the philosophy of the Andrews Institute by saying, “we are trying to take everyday problems and figure out better, safer, and less painful ways to treat them. That’s pretty awesome for patients here on the Gulf Coast, or in the southeastern United States.  

They don’t have to travel internationally, or to New York or the West Coast to get these cutting-edge treatments. We’re doing those same treatments, actually researching them, testing them, and improving them – right here at the Andrews Institute.”