STORRS, Conn. — A new method of regrowing cartilage by zapping the bone could bring pain relief to millions of people who suffer from arthritis. The technique, which researchers at the University of Connecticut have successfully tested on rabbits, uses small electric shocks to stimulate cartilage growth.
Normally, pads of cartilage cushion these areas, but they can become worn with age or through injury, causing the bones to rub and making everyday activities like walking incredibly painful. Currently, treatments involve replacing damaged cartilage with a healthy piece taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body or from a donor.
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UConn bioengineers successfully regrew cartilage in a rabbit’s knee, a promising hop toward healing joints in humans, they report in the January 12 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
Arthritis is a common and painful disease caused by damage to our joints. Normally pads of cartilage cushion those spots. But injuries or age can wear it away. As cartilage deteriorates, bone begins to hit bone, and everyday activities like walking become terribly painful.
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Exciting scaffolds regenerate cartilage
Osteoarthritis is a common condition, but curative therapies are limited. Here, Liu and colleagues developed a biodegradable scaffold using PLLA [poly(L-lactic acid)] nanofibers that when placed under applied force generated a piezoelectric charge, leading to improved chondrogenesis in vitro. Rabbits with osteochondral defects in the medial femoral condyle that were treated with the PLLA scaffold demonstrated improved cartilage regeneration and subchondral bone regeneration after 1 or 2 months of exercise to generate piezoelectric charge from the joint loads. Although further work is needed to optimize the scaffold microstructure and components, this study provides evidence that biodegradable piezoelectric scaffolds can use joint-loading exercise to treat osteoarthritis.
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