HERRIMAN — Greg Coleman usually makes his trick shot. Not today. A lifetime of sports caused severe damage to his cartilage that slowed his game and threatened to put him on the sidelines.

After an active night playing sports with his family, he woke up to "incredibly sharp pain. I couldn't bear any weight on the knee. It was excruciating," said Coleman, who lives in Herriman. "I couldn't even walk across the bedroom floor."

While he still plays wearing a knee brace, he needs frequent timeouts. "I'm not able to be as active or play sports at a level I normally play at," he said.

Coleman is part of a clinical trial. Doctors at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital will use Coleman's own cells to fix his knee. "Previous to this, we haven't had a good way to fix cartilage," said Mike Holmstrom, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital. "Kind of the holy grail which we haven't cracked is what to do if you have that cartilage defect."

Surgeons use a scope to take a small amount of cartilage from the patient's knee, like a few grains of rice. They put it on a tiny disc and grow the cells into a larger, implantable piece that's sculpted to fit exactly. Then they glue it in place using special glue.

"It won't reject it — it's your own body," Holmstrom said. "You don't have to worry about any immunological type problems."

And if it works, Coleman can avoid more invasive surgeries, like total knee replacement.

To make sure the cells grow correctly, they put stress on them in the lab, just like the beating his knee takes on the basketball court. "Growing cells just with nothing on them versus physiologic load stimulates them to become appropriate cells," Holmstrom said.

The science could lead to other breakthroughs. "Eventually it could be expanded to the shoulder, the ankle, anywhere there's a cartilage," he said.

For Coleman, it would mean having his game and his life back. "Having it repaired, knowing it's back, knowing it's better, knowing the cartilage has been healed and regrown — that would be just a wonderful state of mind," Coleman said.

And who knows? Maybe he'll even make that trick shot. To find out more about the requirements for the study, call 383-207-2970.

Email: hsimonsen@deseretnews.com