Background: New methods have been used, with promising results, to treat full-thickness cartilage defects. The objective of the present study was to compare autologous chondrocyte implantation with microfracture in a randomized trial. We are not aware of any previous randomized studies comparing these methods.
Methods: Eighty patients without general osteoarthritis who had a single symptomatic cartilage defect on the femoral condyle in a stable knee were treated with autologous chondrocyte implantation or microfracture (forty in each group). We used the International Cartilage Repair Society, Lysholm, Short Form-36 (SF-36), and Tegner forms to collect data. An independent observer performed a follow-up examination at twelve and twenty-four months. Two years postoperatively, arthroscopy with biopsy for histological evaluation was carried out. The histological evaluation was done by a pathologist and a clinical scientist, both of whom were blinded to each patient's treatment.
Results: In general, there were small differences between the two treatment groups. At two years, both groups had significant clinical improvement. According to the SF-36 physical component score at two years postoperatively, the improvement in the microfracture group was significantly better than that in the autologous chondrocyte implantation group (p = 0.004). Younger and more active patients did better in both groups. There were two failures in the autologous chondrocyte implantation group and one in the microfracture group. No serious complications were reported. Biopsy specimens were obtained from 84% of the patients, and histological evaluation of repair tissues showed no significant differences between the two groups. We did not find any association between the histological quality of the tissue and the clinical outcome according to the scores on the Lysholm or SF-36 form or the visual analog scale.
Conclusions: Both methods had acceptable short-term clinical results. There was no significant difference in macroscopic or histological results between the two treatment groups and no association between the histological findings and the clinical outcome at the two-year time-point.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic study, Level I-1a (randomized controlled trial [significant difference]). See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.