Knee cartilage anatomy: the source
of many problems for osteoarthritis sufferers (Image: Gray's Anatomy)
Degradation of the knee cartilage can be brought on by all sorts of causes –
trauma, hereditary and developmental factors or even just plain wear and tear –
but the result is the same. Without healthy cartilage cushioning the point where
the femur sits on top of the tibia, those two bones grind away at each other
with the full weight of the body behind them, causing painful and incapacitating
damage over time.
yet, nobody has discovered a more effective barrier than human cartilage itself,
so there’s no shortage of research going into the creation of new cartilage to
replace or repair worn out joints.
promising stream involves the idea of using 3D printing technology to deposit
stem cells directly into damaged areas of cartilage so it can grow back as
Rocky Tuan, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is working on techniques that give
a patient’s stem cells the perfect conditions to grow into healthy cartilage –
particularly a type of 3D bio-printed scaffolding that holds the stem cells in
place to give the tissue its correct shape as it grows.
intent is that eventually, surgeons will be able to print stable stem cell
structures directly and precisely into the joint through a catheter. The
technique is similar to previous attempts such as the
BioPen, but with the advantage that the extruded cells are solidified using
regular visible light instead of ultraviolet light, which can have a negative
effect on living cells.
Tuan is now looking to improve the resilience and effectiveness of the
scaffolding material using a
nanofiber electrospinning technique he developed with another colleague in
Cartilage problems are debilitating, and they affect people at stages of their
lives when they have maximal access to cash. Research teams are well aware of
the commercial potential that can be unlocked when they find a solid solution to
the problem – so it’s fair to say that osteoarthritis is living on borrowed
time. But the sword can’t drop quickly enough for those of us who suffer daily
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