More than 70,000 knee replacements are carried out in England and Wales each year, but all that could change thanks to a new treatment for arthritis.
Researchers at the University of Iowa are developing a treatment gel which they hope will provide a "minimally invasive, practical, and inexpensive" approach for repairing cartilage and preventing osteoarthritis in the knee.
They say that when the gel is injected into the damaged knee area, it can trigger the body’s own repair process and ease pain.
According to the NHS, osteoarthritis occurs when there is damage in and around the joints that the body can't fully repair.
In the process, some of the cartilage (the protective surface that allows joints to move smoothly) in the joint can be lost.
But in laboratory studies, the Iowa team injected a gel made with SDF1 (a signalling compound naturally found in the blood) into holes in cartilage and found that stem cells formed new cartilage as a result.
This lead to the holes being repaired.
"There's really no cure for osteoarthritis except for total joint replacement, which is not particularly suitable for younger patients because the artificial joints wear out and need to be replaced multiple times," study leader James Martin said in a statement.
"Our approach aims to leverage the body's own capacity for repair, and what we've shown is that cartilage does have regenerative potential - you just have to manipulate it just right."
The team's long-term aim to to trial the gel on animals within the year and eventually commercialise it for human use.
The research was featured in the May issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology.