New Gel May Speed Repair of Torn Cartilage

Injectable Gel Would Use Patient's Own Cartilage to Repair Injured Joints

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Dec. 10, 2004 -- A new gel may someday help speed the recovery of football players, runners, and other athletes who often suffer from painful and slow-healing torn cartilage injuries.

A new animal study shows the experimental gel may have the potential to be more effective and less invasive than currently available treatments. The injectable gel stimulates the formation of new cartilage and may also have the potential to repair worn cartilage damaged by arthritis.

"Using a patient's own cartilage-producing cells, our goal is to place the cells into our new gel and inject them back into the injury site so that cartilage grows where it is needed," says researcher Jason A. Burdick, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a news release. "The gel itself won't initially replace damaged cartilage, but will provide an optimum growth environment for implanted cartilage-producing cells so that new cartilage can be formed and help restore function."

Torn cartilage is a common sports injury that usually occurs as a result of football tackles or other traumatic injury. It usually affects the knee but can affect any joint.

Current treatments for torn cartilage include rest, pain medication, and sometimes invasive repair surgery. But the injury is difficult to treat and involves a long, painful recovery process because cartilage does not regenerate on its own.

New Treatment for Torn Cartilage in the Works

In the study, which appears in an upcoming issue of Biomacromolecules, researchers tested the gel in a small group of mice.

The gel material itself is made of a natural substance known as hyaluronic acid that is combined with light-sensitive molecules.

During the procedure, the injectable liquid is inserted in the affected joint and then exposed to ultraviolet light, which turns the liquid into a gel.

After three months, researchers found the material produced progressively higher amounts of healthy new cartilage in the mice.

Although the results are promising, researchers say it should take at least five years before the gel could be available for treating torn cartilage in humans.

"We would eventually like to make a material that is as strong as cartilage in order to bear the load of the joint immediately after implantation," says Burdick. "But we're not quite there yet."

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SOURCES: Burdick, J. Biomacromolecules, Jan. 10, 2005. News release, American Chemical Society.
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