New Technique to Create Customizable Joints Discovered

Author:  Sarah Lightfoot Vidal
Institution:  Drexel University
Date:  October 2010

Researchers at Columbia University recently developed a method of cell migration, which has the ability to successfully regenerate cartilage cells in rabbits' joints. This discovery is significant as it provides the potential to repair and customize entire segments of joint tissue. Jeremy Mao published his group's findings online in The Lancet this July.

To develop their method, researchers used lasers and computer-automated designs to synthetically recreate the joint using polyester and bone. The model was utilized as a reference to construct a "bioscaffold" conducive to cell migration. According to Patrick Warnke of Bond University, this new discovery provides "new insight into in-vivo tissue engineering."

To speed up the repair, a natural growth factor was used. When the growth factor was introduced, cells migrated to the site, becoming cartilage or bone faster than they would otherwise.

Over the course of four months, 20 rabbits were subjected to growth factor treatment or lack thereof. In addition, three had their joints surgically altered with no transplant. The rabbits treated with the growth factor contained 130% more cells in the new cartilage than their non-treatment counterparts: a significant difference.

Eight weeks following the procedure, movement and weight-bearing were assessed. The three rabbits who underwent surgery limped, and those with growth factor recovered more consistently than those without.

Two months later, regenerated tissue samples were tested for thickness and density, and the number of cartilage cells present in the respective joints was quantified. Joints with the growth factor were completely covered in new cartilage, joints without the growth factor had patchy coverage, and those joints with surgery were bare.

This study suggests an alternative method to total joint replacements, or at least a new method of performing it. It may prove to be dangerous in older patients with preexisting conditions. However, younger patients could perhaps finally have a solution to conditions like arthritis with recovery periods as short as one month.

Author: Sarah Lightfoot Vidal

Reviwed by: Karuna Meda and Yangguang Ou