artificial meniscus

Potential new treatment: the artificial meniscus

The meniscus is a crucial part of the knee: it’s a piece of cartilage which sits between the thigh bone and shin bone – two in each leg – which acts as cushions between the two bones. As you can imagine, it’s not a part of the knee you’d want to come to any damage, but it can, quite easily, and especially through sporting activities such as hard tackles and sudden pivots or stops. As time goes on and our bodies age, even low-level activities such as getting up from a squatting position can cause a meniscus tear if you’re really unlucky.

Symptoms of a meniscus tear are manifold and problematic. They include swelling, difficulty in moving the knee, locking and catching in the knee area, and the feeling that the knee is unable to support one’s weight. In low-level cases, RICE can get you through, but you may require pain medications, physiotherapy, and injections directly into the joint to relieve pain. After that, you will have to wait until the cartilage has deteriorated severely, to the point where the entire knee needs to be replaced with a metal and plastic implant.

A breakthrough device

However, a new development from two medical centres in Israel points the way towards a less painful and less complicated way to perform knee surgery – the artificial meniscus.

The NUsurface Meniscus Implant – a polyurethane-carbonate implant created by an Israeli research team – has already been welcomed across the medical world, and has almost immediately been granted ‘breakthrough device’ status by the US Food and Drug Administration, who have scheduled clinical trials scheduled to be completed next year and in 2023.

The implant essentially mimics the biomechanical function of the medial meniscus by protecting the cartilage from overload but also prevents further degeneration of the cartilage that happens when part of the meniscus is removed after a tear.

More importantly, as the implant isn’t attached to bone or soft tissues, the required rest period is severely reduced, meaning patients can be fast-tracked into a full recovery with minimal risk of post-surgery complications. And crucially, the chances of continued pain post-surgery are vastly curtailed.

Who would be the prime candidates for an artificial meniscus?

This new technology is geared towards people between the ages of 35 and 70, but especially those who are considered too young for a total knee replacement.  It’s also intended for people who have already had current meniscus surgery and are still experiencing knee pain or are not suitable for a traditional meniscus allograft transplant.

Two artificial meniscus implant surgeries were performed in Israel last November – one in a private clinic and the other in a public hospital – and so far, the results have been encouraging. While the device is already being marketed in Belgium, Germany and Italy, the nod by the FDA to fast-track its development and review process for the device means that it could a regular procedure for knee surgeons by the middle of the decade.

A cadaveric meniscal transplant is an option if the artificial meniscus is unavailable. Leading London knee surgeon Mr Jonathan Webb can discuss all possible options with you during your consultation.