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New nanoscopic material enables adults to regenerate cartilage

By Damir Beciri
9 Comments15 February 2010

knee-cartilage_0Amateur athletes, professional athletes and people whose joints have just worn out endure health problems, since humans are unable to regenerate cartilage once they are adults and often have to live with painful joints or osteoarthritis. Luckily, Northwestern University researchers are the first to design a bioactive nanomaterial that promotes the growth of new cartilage in vivo and without the use of expensive growth factors. Minimally invasive, the therapy activates the bone marrow stem cells and produces natural cartilage. No conventional therapy can do this.

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

Type II collagen is the major protein in articular cartilage, the smooth, white connective tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. The Northwestern gel is injected as a liquid to the area of the damaged joint, where it then self-assembles and forms a solid. This extracellular matrix, which mimics what cells usually see, binds by molecular design one of the most important growth factors for the repair and regeneration of cartilage. By keeping the growth factor concentrated and localized, the cartilage cells have the opportunity to regenerate.

In collaboration with Nirav A. Shah, M.D., a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon who treats athletes of all levels and ages and is a former orthopaedic resident at Northwestern, the researchers implanted their nanofiber gel in an animal model with cartilage defects.

The animals were treated with microfracture, where tiny holes are made in the bone beneath the damaged cartilage to create a new blood supply to stimulate the growth of new cartilage. The researchers tested various combinations: microfracture alone; microfracture and the nanofiber gel with growth factor added; and microfracture and the nanofiber gel without growth factor added.

They found their technique produced much better results than the microfracture procedure alone and, more importantly, found that addition of the expensive growth factor was not required to get the best results. Instead, because of the molecular design of the gel material, growth factor already present in the body is enough to regenerate cartilage.

The matrix only needed to be present for a month to produce cartilage growth. The matrix, based on self-assembling molecules known as peptide amphiphiles, biodegrades into nutrients and is replaced by natural cartilage.

Their current research results are published in a paper titled Supramolecular Design of Self-assembling Nanofibers for Cartilage Regeneration.

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9 Comments — Leave your response!

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    stephen bertoldo

    hi have knee cartilage damage behind left knee cap what can be done will get worse in time broke off 1yr ago regards stephen

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    Is this being done on humans? My hips have extensive cartilage damage from dirt bike accidents. This would really help me.


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    Rob Aid

    The research was done on rabbits. There is no notice when it’s going to be applied on humans.

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    marjorie r smith

    I was awake and alert during my arthroscopic meniscus repair. Surprised to see him drilling small holes in underside of my kneecaps. recovery poor even with rehab. Stretching only partial solution to pain in both knees. Are there any teams doing this repair anywhere since the above was published? Thank you. Marjorie

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    Damir Beciri

    There are a few other researches, but none of them stated they performed tests with human tissue.

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    Monica Sahn

    7/20/14 This research came out quite a few years ago. Has there been any work done in human trials. If they are looking for volunteers, I would like to be one. I do not want surgery and have known through my reading of literature that it is possible for our bodies to regrow cartilage. I have just read about Cat’s Claw from Peru that is used to help inflamed joints and regrow cartilage. I want something that sounds like it holds far more promise. Are there trials being done? How can I get information where and how to make contact? Thanks for any help that you may provide. Sincerely, Monica Sahn, RN,MS

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    Dean Jensen

    I am a very active 75 year old golfing nut I do not want to take 6 months or longer out of my life for the possibility of a successful implant or implants. I would like to find some one who has a product or cure for a set of bone on bone knees I was told I I have stage 4 arthritis and my alternatives are suffer or implants. I can mask some of the pain with NSAIDs but hate the thought so I suffer. I really need to know if anyone in florida or North Carolina or anywhere else is injecting northwestern gel or needs a human donor of time and desire my thought is if it works on me it will work on anyone not a bad slogan for a poster child

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    John Kehrig

    I am 78 years old and still fairly active but with severe ankle joint problems,very little cartilage.No pain doing nothing but very painful walking or moving quickly.Would like 2 or 3 mm. of cartilage added. Any chance NW gel could help ?? Would like to play racquetball again, was a national champ May 2008 in Houston,Texas, age 70. I’m ready to volunteer !!

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    I am a healthy fit 49 yr old male and have severe osteoarthritis of my right shoulder and play tennis. The joint is bone-on-bone and is very painful generally and obviously if i play.

    I am currently speaking to Regenexx in the US, who can possibly help, but the main problem is that they cannot help regrow cartilage where there is no cartilage at all in the first place as the cells need something ti bind to. I believe this will advance and am interested to hear from anyone who has experienced same or similar condition/treatment?

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