Thousands of hip replacements carried out in Australia each year could become a new source of stemcells to treat degenerative diseases, according to researchers.

While surgery patients can already donate the ball of their hip, known as the femoral head, so the bone can be reused, doctors now believe they can use stemcells from the tissue to treat the patient's own failing organs or degenerative diseases such as arthritis.

A study by the University of NSW found that the adult stemcells, known as plasmacytoid dendritic cells, showed "remarkable similarities" to bone marrow cells cultured in the laboratory, and had the same ability to change into other cells.

Researcher Melissa Knothe Tate said the tissue was normally discarded during routine hip replacements but could have profound implications in clinical use. "The use of the tissue is highly novel, as it represents an unprecedented and to date unstudied source of stemcells from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis patients," she said.

Professor Knothe Tate said it opened a new way to treat disease and organ failure in people born four decades too early to have banked their own cord tissue or blood.

PlusLife, formerly the Perth Bone and Tissue Bank, has been doing similar research on the femoral heads from WA patients ruled ineligible to donate for a transplant but happy to donate to research.

Managing director Anne Cowie said any tissue donation was regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and strict exclusion criteria ensured the safety of grafts provided to patients.

She said PlusLife had two donor programs, the main one collecting femoral heads from patients undergoing total hip replacement surgery. It also operated a deceased program, similar to organ donation, where families could consent to bone, tendon and ligament donation after the death of their relative.

The focus of the transplant program was children and adolescents with spinal deformity, young people with bone cancer who could often avoid having a limb amputated by receiving a bone graft, and those with complex joint problems caused by arthritis and trauma.

For details about donating, call 1800 801 997 or go to pluslife.org.au.

The West Australian

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