Weaving cartilage in 3-D

Today, people who suffer from cartilage damage don't have effective therapies at their disposal. But now, researchers at the Duke University Medical Center have developed a weaving machine to repair cartilage. Using a patient's own stem cells in conjunction with their new three-dimensional fabric "scaffold" could lead to a better way to repair damaged joints. And the new cartilage created by using this method has the same mechanical properties as native cartilage, which is not the case of today's laboratory-grown cartilage. The researchers expect to start clinical trials in three or four years.

Today, people who suffer from cartilage damage don't have effective therapies at their disposal. But now, researchers at the Duke University Medical Center have developed a weaving machine to repair cartilage. Using a patient's own stem cells in conjunction with their new three-dimensional fabric "scaffold" could lead to a better way to repair damaged joints. And the new cartilage created by using this method has the same mechanical properties as native cartilage, which is not the case of today's laboratory-grown cartilage. The researchers expect to start clinical trials in three or four years.

Before going further, here is a picture showing the weaving machine developed by Duke orthopedic researchers (Photo credit: Duke University Medical Center). Here is a direct link to a larger version.

The weaving machine developed by Duke orthopedic researchers

This second picture shows a close up view of the bioengineered scaffold (Photo credit: Duke University Medical Center). Here is a direct link to a larger version in its original format.

Close up view of the bioengieered scaffold

Now, how physicians are working today to help people suffering from cartilage damage?

Current therapies to repair cartilage damage are not effective, the researchers said. The only bioengineering approach to such joint repair involves removing cartilage cells from patients and then "growing" them in a laboratory to form new cartilage. However, it can take several months to grow a piece of cartilage large enough to be implanted back into the patient. Additionally, this laboratory-grown cartilage is not as durable as native cartilage.

This new weaving machine offers several advantages.

In laboratory tests, the fabric scaffold that the researchers have created had the same mechanical properties as native cartilage. In the near future, surgeons will be able to impregnate custom-designed scaffolds with cartilage-forming stem cells and chemicals that stimulate their growth and then implant them into patients during a single procedure, the researchers said.
"Once implanted, the cartilage cells will grow throughout the scaffold, and over time the scaffold will slowly dissolve, leaving the new cartilage tissue" said [Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory.] "The use of this scaffold will also permit doctors to treat larger areas of cartilage damage, since the current approaches are only suitable for repairing smaller areas of cartilage damage or injury."

For your information, this research work has been published by Nature Materials under the name "A biomimetic three-dimensional woven composite scaffold for functional tissue engineering of cartilage" (Volume 6, Issue 2, Pages 162–167, February 2007). Here is a link to the abstract.

Sources: Duke University Medical Center news release, February 5, 2007; and various other websites

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