New cartilage repair treatment off the agenda in the UK – for now

Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI)  cartilage kneeA new treatment for repairing defects in knee cartilage has not been approved for routine use in the UK because of a lack of evidence over how effective it is long-term.
Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) involves collecting normal cartilage cells from inside the knee and then growing them in lab conditions for several weeks to increase their number. The cells can then be put back into the damaged part of the knee and sealed by a layer of tissue.
About 10,000 people in the UK need treatment for cartilage damage annually; 200–500 of these have cartilage defects that are suitable for ACI.
So National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) looked at the evidence and spoke to clinical experts and people with the condition. It was decided that for now, the technique should be restricted to research use, including clinical trials and observational studies designed to measure its long-term benefits.
Prof Carole Longson from NICE comments:
“ACI is a promising technology, but there is insufficient long-term evidence to support a conclusion on the long-term effectiveness of its use.
“This lack of evidence meant that the committee could not recommend ACI for routine use of NHS resources, but it wanted to encourage further research to generate more evidence on the effectiveness of the procedures considered.”
The guidance is in draft form so the decision is not yet final. A spokesperson from Arthritis Research UK clarifies the situation:
“ACI and other forms of cartilage repair using a variety of cells have enormous potential to treat osteoarthritis. However, they remain at an experimental stage and are currently only available to patients taking part in clinical trials.”

Subscribe to Arthritis Digest, the UK’s fastest growing arthritis magazine for all the latest arthritis news, reviews and celebrity interviews. You’ll know what your doctor is talking about, what new drugs are in the pipeline and be up to date on helpful products. Hard copy and digital versions both available. Click here for more information.

Image credit: Kurtis Garbutt