For ideas on how to solve this problem, Guilak turned to his colleague Charles Gersbach, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and an expert in gene therapy. Gersbach proposed introducing new genes into the stem cells so that they produce the necessary growth factors themselves.
But the conventional methods for gene therapy are complex and difficult to translate into a strategy that would be feasible as a commercial product.
This type of gene therapy generally requires gathering stem cells, modifying them with a virus that transfers the new genes, culturing the resulting genetically altered stem cells until they reach a critical mass, applying them to the synthetic cartilage scaffolding and, finally, implanting it into the body.
"There are a few challenges with that process, one of them being that there are way too many extra steps," said Gersbach. "So we turned to a technique I had previously developed that affixes the viruses that deliver the new genes onto a material's surface."
The new study uses Gersbach's technique -- dubbed biomaterial-mediated gene delivery -- to induce the stem cells placed on Guilak's synthetic cartilage scaffolding to produce growth factor proteins. The results show that the technique works and that the resulting composite material is at least as good biochemically and biomechanically as if the growth factors were introduced in the laboratory.
"We want the new cartilage to form in and around the synthetic scaffold at a rate that can match or exceed the scaffold's degradation," said Jonathan Brunger, a graduate student who has spent time in both Guilak's and Gersbach's laboratories developing and testing the new technique. "So while the stem cells are making new tissue (in the body), the scaffold can withstand the
|Contact: Ken Kingery|