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Woodbury surgeon takes aim at knee replacements

A Woodbury doctor is unveiling a new procedure this month that he says could make total knee replacements a thing of the past.

Jack Bert will open Minnesota Bone and Joint Specialists on Sept. 16, where procedures will include a cutting-edge stem cell therapy for knee arthritis. If all goes as planned, the procedure -- currently being studied in advance of approval by the Food and Drug Administration -- could ward off total knee replacement by growing new cartilage, Bert said.

"We think that the future of repairing joints is going to be stem cells," Bert said.

The longtime Woodbury resident said he was turned on to the procedure while visiting Europe during his stint as president of the Arthroscopy Association of North America. Doctors in Italy and Germany were showing high success rates with stem-cell cartilage treatment, he explained.

"I became very interested in some of their techniques," the orthopedic surgeon said.

After he returned to the states, he connected with a doctor from Baltimore, who asked Bert if he wanted to participate in a study group that would work toward bringing the stem-cell procedure into the American medical community's mainstream.

Bert, who also works as an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Medicine, agreed to participate in the group.

He said the experimental procedure -- a one-hour experience that involves removing marrow from the hip, then injecting it into the knee -- is superior to other treatments doctors have attempted for years that often were followed by total knee replacement surgeries.

Results from Europe show markedly fewer numbers of patients who undergo the stem cell treatment returning for total knee replacement, Bert said.

"This is the one that holds the most promise," he said, adding that the relative cost of the therapy is also far less expensive than other treatments.

In Bert's new procedure, the patient keeps weight off the injected leg for about eight weeks while the stem cells grow, forming a new cartilage. Full range of motion is possible within three to four months of the procedure, Bert said.

Knee arthritis, he explained, occurs when knee cartilage becomes eroded through wear and tear and can cause patients excruciating pain. Bert said the stem cell treatment will work best on patients between the ages of 35 and 60 who still have some cartilage remaining in the knee.

Though sports injuries account for some knee patients, Bert said the overwhelming cause is obesity.

He said that over time, patients with osteoarthritis -- or loss of cartilage at the end of a bone -- have swelled into a group responsible for $185 billion in aggregate health care expenses in the United States.

"Osteoarthritis patients clearly use more health resources than any other group of sick patients," Bert said.

So he's hoping the stem cell procedure will help stem some of those costs.

Though he said the procedure hasn't yet drawn critics, the mere use of stem cells raises concerns among some people. He reminded that the marrow hold stem cells comes from the patient's own hip -- not from fetal tissue, which has drawn controversy.

"This is not the same thing," Bert said.

Bert said the the FDA could approve the stem cell procedure within the next 12-18 months.

Minnesota Bone and Joint Specialists will be located at 2025 Woodlane Drive.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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