Northwestern University logoAdvancements in technology appear to have led cartilages to do naturally what they may possibly not have been able to until now. Researchers from Northwestern University claim to be the first to tailor an innovative bioactive nanomaterial that could advance the growth of new cartilage in vivo.

All this probably minus the use of expensive growth factors, the minimally invasive therapy seems to activate the bone marrow stem cells. This could seemingly lead it to produce natural cartilage which apparently no traditional therapy can claim to do. The novel research could pave new treatment paths for innumerable people counting amateur athletes, professional athletes and those whose joints may have just worn out.

“Unlike bone, cartilage does not grow back, and therefore clinical strategies to regenerate this tissue are of great interest,” commented Samuel I. Stupp, senior author, Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, and Medicine, and director of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine.

Bringing in bad knees, shoulders and elbows to an orthopaedic surgeon, damaged cartilage may result in joint pain and loss of physical function. Apparently this may eventually lead to osteoarthritis. The major protein in articular cartilage is known to be type II collagen. It is supposedly a smooth white connective tissue covering the ends of bones where they come together to form joints.

“Cartilage does not regenerate in adults. Once you are fully grown you have all the cartilage you’ll ever have,” revealed first author Ramille N. Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our material of nanoscopic fibers stimulates stem cells present in bone marrow to produce cartilage containing type II collagen and repair the damaged joint. A procedure called microfracture is the most common technique currently used by doctors, but it tends to produce a cartilage having predominantly type I collagen which is more like scar tissue.”

Reportedly the Northwestern gel is injected as a liquid to the area of the damaged joint. Here it appears to then self-assemble and form a solid. Imitating what cells usually see, this extracellular matrix appears by molecular design to be one of the most important growth factors for the repair and regeneration of cartilage. The cartilage cells may have the opportunity to regenerate by keeping the growth factor concentrated and localized.

The nanofiber gel was alleged to have been implanted in an animal model with cartilage defects by the researchers in collaboration with Nirav A. Shah, a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon and former orthopaedic resident at Northwestern. The scientists reveal that the animals were treated with microfracture where small holes were made in the bone below the damaged cartilage. This apparently allowed the creation of a new blood supply that stimulated the growth of new cartilage.

Various combinations were tested by the scientists. This included microfracture alone; growth factor added to microfracture and the nanofiber gel; and microfracture and the nanofiber gel without growth factor added. Their technique was found to proffer much better results as compared to the microfracture procedure alone. More importantly, the experts found that there was no need to add the expensive growth factor to attain the best results. Thanks to the molecular design of the gel material, the growth factor already present in the body was noticed to be sufficient for regeneration of cartilage.

To generate cartilage growth, presence of the matrix appeared to be needed for just a month. Based on self-assembling molecules called peptide amphiphiles, the matrix supposedly biodegrades into nutrients and may be replaced by natural cartilage.

The results of the analysis were scheduled to be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).