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Posted 03.04.05

MU Veterinarian Uses Human Procedure to Save Dogs From Knee Defect

COLUMBIA, Mo. - For several years, people with defects in their knee cartilage have undergone surgery that uses portions of cartilage from other areas of the joint to repair the defect. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia veterinarian is using that same procedure on dogs, a discovery that could save the lives of thousands of animals each year.

"As the cartilage develops in both humans and animals, the cells must progress in an ordered manner to form the important interface between cartilage and bone in adults," said James Cook, a professor of veterinary medicine and surgery. "This process must occur in just the right manner to keep the cartilage healthy. Significant numbers of people and animals experience chondral and osteochondral defects, or areas where new cartilage does not grow properly. This eventually develops into a painful condition, and for animals, can result in their death if not treated."

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The problem is very common, typically affecting about 5 percent of the dog population, and veterinarians see thousands of such cases each year. Currently, the standard procedure in animals is for a surgeon to remove the defect and allow the cartilage to repair itself. However, the scar tissue that grows to heal the surgical wound is not as good as the original cartilage. Cook said that veterinarians don't like this procedure to treat this problem in the knee because dogs typically have severe problems within a short amount of time following the surgery.

Searching for a solution, Cook might have found one in human medicine. While humans experience the same problem, doctors have been treating it differently. Instead of removing the defect and letting it heal, doctors take a graft of healthy cartilage from an area of the joint that does not need a heavy cushion and plug the defect with healthy tissue. Cook used this technique in dogs and preliminary results appear promising. 

"We've been very pleased with the preliminary results of the study," Cook said. "If we are successful with the procedure in other dogs, this could help thousands of animals each year that suffer from this potentially serious defect in their joints. The current dogs in the study are recovering very well."

Cook is presenting his findings at the Veterinary Orthopedic Society in March.



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