(NEW YORK) -- Last year, Patricia Beals was told she'd need a double knee replacement to repair her severely arthritic knees or she'd probably spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
Hoping to avoid surgery, Beals, 72, opted instead for an experimental treatment that involved harvesting bone marrow stem cells from her hip, concentrating the cells in a centrifuge and injecting them back into her damaged joints.
"Almost from the moment I got up from the table, I was able to throw away my cane," Beals says. "Now I'm biking and hiking like a 30-year-old."
A handful of doctors around the country are administering treatments like the one Beals received to stop or even reverse the ravages of osteoarthritis. Stem cells are the only cells in the body able to morph into other types of specialized cells. When the patient's own stem cells are injected into a damaged joint, they appear to transform into chondrocytes, the cells that go on to produce fresh cartilage. They also seem to amplify the body's own natural repair efforts by accelerating healing, reducing inflammation, and preventing scarring and loss of function.