Bioengineers are a step closer to growing new cartilage from a patient’s own stem cells.
Cartilage injuries are difficult to repair. Current surgical options generally involve taking a piece from another part of the injured joint and patching over the damaged area, but this approach involves damaging healthy cartilage, and a person’s cartilage may still deteriorate with age.
“The broad picture is trying to develop new therapies to replace cartilage tissue, starting with focal defects—things like sports injuries—and then hopefully moving toward surface replacement for cartilage degradation that comes with aging,” says Jason Burdick, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “Here, we’re trying to figure out the right environment for adult stem cells to produce the best cartilage.”
“As we age, the health and vitality of cartilage cells declines,” says Robert Mauck, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, “so the efficacy of any repair with adult chondrocytes is actually quite low. Stem cells, which retain this vital capacity, are therefore ideal.”