Background: Full depth focal cartilage lesions do not heal spontaneously and while some of these lesions are asymptomatic they might progress to osteoarthritis. Treatment for these lesions is warranted and the gold standard treatment at younger age remains biological healing by cell stimulation. In the middle-age patient the success rate of biologic treatment varies, hence the surge of non-biological alternatives. Our objective was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a metallic implant for treatment of these lesions with respect to the long-term panarticular cartilage homeostasis.
Methods: The medial femoral condyle of 16 sheep was operated unilaterally. A metallic implant was inserted in the weight-bearing surface at an aimed height of 0.5 mm recessed. Euthanasia was performed at 6 or 12 months. Implant height and tilt was analyzed using a laser-scanning device. Damage to cartilage surfaces was evaluated macroscopically and microscopically according to the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) recommendations.
Results: Thirteen sheep were available for evaluation and showed a varying degree of cartilage damage linearly increasing with age. Cartilage damage of the medial tibial plateau opposing the implant was increased compared to the non-operated knee by 1.77 units (p = 0.041; 95% CI: 0.08, 3.45) on a 0-27 unit scale. Remaining joint compartments were unaffected. Implant position averaged 0.54 recessed (95% CI: 0.41, 0.67).
Conclusions: Our results showed a consistent and accurate placement of these implants at a defined zone. At this position cartilage wear of opposing and surrounding joint cartilage is limited. Thus expanded animal and human studies are motivated.
Keywords: Focal cartilage lesion; Focal knee resurfacing; Metal implants; Sheep animal model.
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