Hip replacements for some patients could be a thing of the past after surgeons pioneered a new stem cell procedure to tackle a bone disease that leads to arthritis.
Doctors at Southampton General Hospital are extracting stem cells from the bone marrow of patients in need of hip repair due to osteonecrosis - a condition where poor blood supply causes significant bone damage leading to severe arthritis.
These cells are mixed with cleaned, crushed bone from another patient who has had their own hip replaced and used to fill the hole made by surgeons after dead and damaged tissue has been removed from the joint.
The procedure has been developed by Doug Dunlop, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, and Professor Richard Oreffo, a specialist in musculoskeletal science at the University of Southampton.
"Although this work is still ongoing, several patients who have had the procedure have reacted very well and, if we get the results we are hoping for, these patients won't need to have their hip joints replaced - they should be fixed completely," said Mr Dunlop.
Professor Oreffo added: "By using stem cells to send out chemical signals to blood vessels, we hope the body will continue to create new vessels in the hip which supply enough nutrients to maintain bone strength."
Osteonecrosis is on the rise in the UK with around 4,000 cases a year but it is much more widespread in Asia where it is the most common form of arthritis of the hip, the hospital said.
It can also be treated with drugs to help avoid arthritis and usually strikes between 30 and 50 years of age.
Osteonecrosis is one of the three main causes of arthritis alongside osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis in general affects one in five people in the UK.