HOUSTON, June 4, 2008 -- Bioengineers at Rice University have discovered that intense pressure -- similar to what someone would experience more than a half-mile beneath the ocean's surface -- stimulates cartilage cells to grow new tissue with nearly all of the properties of natural cartilage. The new method, which requires no stem cells, may eventually provide relief for thousands of arthritis sufferers.
"This tissue-engineering method holds promise not only for cartilage but also for tissues to repair bladders, blood vessels, kidneys, heart valves, bones and more," said lead researcher Kyriacos Athanasiou, Rice's Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering.
The findings appear this week in the journal PLoS ONE. They are the latest from the emerging field of tissue engineering, a new discipline that aims to capitalize on the body's innate healing abilities to develop new ways of growing tissues that can be used to surgically repair wounds without risk of rejection.
Cartilage, a tissue in the human body that cannot heal itself, has long been a target of tissue engineers. Cartilage is the skeleton's shock absorber, and its stiffness, strength and other mechanical properties derive not from living cartilage cells but from the densely woven matrix of collagen and proteoglycan that surrounds them. This extracellular matrix, or ECM, is produced during cartilage development in children, but cannot be repaired following injury in adulthood.
Injured cartilage often serves as the focal point for arthritis formation, so tissue engineers have long sought a means of growing new cartilage that can be transplanted into adults to repair damaged joints before arthritis can develop. Unfortunately, cartilage is difficult to engineer, in part because there are no natural healing processes to mimic.
Athanasiou's Musculoskeletal Bioengineering Laboratory has focused on cartilage for more than 10 years, and he said the new process is th
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