In 2017, Christopher Brown, M.D., medical director of Rochester Regional Health Sports Medicine program, became the first surgeon in Upstate New York to use a new treatment that uses a patient’s own cartilage cells to repair knee damage. The groundbreaking surgery took place at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital.
The treatment involves the placement of a MACI® implant, which uses cartilage cells regrown in a laboratory. The United States Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure, which allows a patient to be part of his or her healing by using healthy cells to help repair damaged ones. This technique has the potential to help many people who live in constant pain because of bone-on-bone friction due to the loss of cushioning that cartilage provides.
The procedure is used to treat defects in the cartilage that cover the surface of the joints, so movement is smooth and pain-free. It starts with a biopsy of healthy knee cartilage. The biopsy is processed and the cartilage is frozen. These cells are expanded and seeded on a special membrane and then sent to the surgeon for implantation. When implanted, the surgeon shapes the implant to the size of the cartilage defect and attaches it to the damaged area.
This procedure is the only FDA-approved procedure in the United States that uses the patient’s own cartilage to replicate what’s missing. It is particularly beneficial for those for whom cartilage damage prevents employment, participating in sports, or having the active quality of life they desire. Brown’s MACI® surgeries so far have been performed on young, active patients, such as Courtney Johnson, 16. Brown operated on the avid basketball player after she experienced a chondral delamination injury to her knee. Research suggests this condition might be caused by an underlying genetic cartilage debonding syndrome.
Brown believes Johnson will make a full recovery after about 12 months. At that time, he expects her to be able to return to high-impact activities if she chooses. “Right now, my goal is just to be able to move around, walk, and run without pain,” she says. As for being one of the first people in the country to undergo the procedure, she says it is “very cool.”
Brown, 39, of Canandaigua, Ontario Country, has served as medical director of Rochester Regional Health Sports Medicine since 2015. Board-certified in orthopedic surgery with a sports medicine certification, he practices sports medicine at Rochester Regional Health Finger Lakes Bone and Joint. He worked at Duke and Stanford medical centers, prior to coming to the Rochester area, and spent a year working with the San Francisco 49ers.
“Being a part of the ever-changing medical field, as science and technology evolve, these are exciting times for me, particularly when it allows me to provide my patients with innovative procedures such as MACI®,” Brown says. “I plan to continue to incorporate new innovative technologies that are support by research to allow my patients options to remain active, fit, and competitive.”