PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Osteoarthritis affects millions of people in the US. Symptoms range from minor pain to crippling pain that compromises quality of life. A groundbreaking study is underway at four prestigious research facilities in the United States. One of those is right here on the Gulf Coast. Tonight, Drexel Gilbert is on the road in Gulf Breeze.

Lori Jamison is a Pensacola native who, as a teenager, played basketball at Pine Forest High School. Today, she suffers from osteoarthritis in her knee. She believes it’s a result of basketball injuries.

“I get stiffness, it interferes with my mobility. Sometimes it’s like a sharp needle going down your leg. When I go to the movie theater, I have to sit on the back row so I can stretch it out,” Jamison said. She is participating in a clinical trial at Andrews Research and Education Foundation in Gulf Breeze.

The research is studying stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis in the knee. AREF is one of only four facilities in the country participating in the study. The others are Emory Orthopedics & Spine Center, Duke University and Sanford Health. Researchers hope it leads to FDA approval for the treatment. If that happens, it could be life-changing for patients.

“Hopefully reduce their pain if not actually get rid of their pain. That is our goal. We want to delay, if not prevent, total knee replacement,” said Dr. Josh Hackel, who is the primary investigator for the Andrews phase of the study. “We’re comparing three different stem cell sources. Bone marrow from their pelvis, adipose- that’s tissue from their belly fat- and the third is umbilical cord tissue donated from pregnant mothers.”

The bone marrow and belly fat stem cells are harvested from the study participants, under local anesthesia. The stem cells are later implanted into the knee joint using ultrasound guidance to implant the cells into the knee joint.

Jamison has already undergone stem cell harvesting.

“It was very easy, very convenient, no downtime after the procedure was done,” Jamison said

This $13 million clinical trial is being funded entirely by a grant from Bernie Marcus, founder of the Marcus Foundation and co-founder of Home Depot. Osteoarthritis is an issue that is close to the philanthropist’s heart because his mother was left disabled by the illness at a young age.

There will be around 120 participants at each of the four sites. There are plenty of openings. If you’d like to be considered for the study, call AREF at 850-916-8591.