Cartilage Transplantation at UnityPoint Health - Meriter

ER - Madison

22 min Average
UnityPoint Health - Madison

Cartilage Transplantation

Cartilage transplantation is designed to transfer and generate new cartilage to areas where cartilage has been damaged.

Who Is a Candidate?

People who:

  • Are active
  • Have localized areas of osteoarthritis
  • Are between 15 and 55 years of age
  • Have intact menisci

Who Is Not a Candidate?

People with:

  • Unstable knees
  • Abnormal weight distribution within the joint
  • Treated cancer in the bones, cartilage, fat, or muscle of the affected limb

What is Cartilage Transplantation?

Articular cartilage may be damaged by sports, traumatic injuries, work injuries, or daily wear and tear. The damage leads to pain, swelling, locking, or even giving away of the knee. Cartilage does not have a natural ability to heal and can progress to osteoarthritis if it's not treated.

The new cartilage used can be either autograft or allograft cartilage. Autograft refers to a patient's own cartilage that is taken from the same knee or from the opposite knee. Allograft refers to cartilage and bone that was taken from a donor and was screened for diseases.

An orthopedic surgeon takes a small biopsy of the patient's healthy cartilage and sends it to Genzyme Biosurgery. Genzyme Biosurgery grows the cells until there are enough cells to repair the lost cartilage. The articular cartilage cells grow in a solution composed of water, collagen and proteoglycans, which gives the cartilage its elasticity. The cells are then multiplied using a cell-culture technique. They're stored in a frozen state and are thawed on the day of implantation. The interval growing process of the new cartilage cells is usually six weeks. Approximately 12 million new cartilage cells are grown by the time of operation.

The surgeon will make an incision in the patient's knee and prepare the injury by clearing away all of the damaged tissue. The surgeon will inject the patient’s new cartilage cells. The cells will attach to the bone and fully develop to form a cartilage repair.


The surgeon and physical therapist will recommend a program for the patient based on the size, location, and severity of the cartilage injury. Patients are typically allowed to put weight on their operated leg after eight weeks. Depending on the size and location of your cartilage injury and your rehabilitation, low impact activity may be resumed as early as 6-9 months following treatment. High impact sports should generally not occur until 12-18 months.