Background: Conservative therapies for the treatment of knee degenerative processes are used before resorting to surgery; nonetheless, they may offer only short-term benefits. Encouraging preliminary results have been reported using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), either alone or in association with surgery. Among the many sources, adipose tissue has created a huge interest, because of its anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties ascribed to the cells of its stromal vascular fraction. We previously reported the safety and feasibility of autologous micro-fragmented adipose tissue as adjuvant for the surgical treatment of diffuse degenerative chondral lesions at 1 year. Here we present the outcomes of the same cohort of patients evaluated at 3 year follow-up. Micro-fragmented adipose tissue was obtained using a minimal manipulation technique in a closed system. The safety of the procedure was evaluated by recording type and incidence of any adverse event. The clinical outcomes were determined using the KOOS, IKDC-subjective, Tegner Lysholm Knee, and VAS pain scales taken pre-operatively and at 12 and 36 months follow-up.
Findings: No adverse events, lipodystrophy cases at the harvesting site nor atypical inflammatory reactions at the joint level were reported. Of the 30 patients previously treated, one was lost, and seven received additional treatments in the period of observation. On average, the 22 patients that had no other treatments in the 3-year period showed that the results observed at 1 year were maintained. Moreover, 41, 55, 55 and 64% of the patients improved with respect to the 1-year follow-up in the Tegner Lysholm Knee, VAS, IKDC-subjective and total KOOS, respectively.
Conclusion: Our results point to autologous and micro-fragmented adipose tissue injection as an innovative and safe approach for the management of diffuse degenerative knee chondropathy in the mid-term. The procedure is simple, affordable, minimally invasive, and compliant with the regulatory panorama.