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Nanofiber Gel May Spur Growth of New Knee Cartilage

Animal study reveals new way to repair damage with natural tissue

THURSDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A new nanofiber gel that promotes cartilage growth in joints has been developed by U.S. researchers.

The material is injected into the damaged joint and stimulates bone marrow stem cells to produce natural cartilage, without the need for expensive growth factors. No current therapy can do this, according to the researchers, from Northwestern University.

Many people -- including amateur and professional athletes and older adults -- have damaged cartilage, which can lead to joint pain and loss of physical function and eventually to osteoarthritis.

"Cartilage does not regenerate in adults. Once you are fully grown, you have all the cartilage you'll ever have," the study's lead author, Ramille N. Shah, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

The nanoscopic material prompts stem cells in bone marrow to produce cartilage containing type II collagen and repair the damaged joint, the researchers explained. Type II collagen is the major protein in articular cartilage, which is the smooth, white connective tissue that covers the ends of bones where they meet to form joints.

"A procedure called microfracture is the most common technique currently used by doctors, but it tends to produce a cartilage having predominately type I collagen, which is more like scar tissue," Shah said.

In the microfracture procedure, small holes are drilled in the bone beneath the damaged cartilage to create a new blood supply to stimulate the growth of new cartilage.

Tests in lab animals showed that the nanoscopic material produced better results than the microfracture procedure alone, the researchers said.

The study was published online in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about cartilage damage and repair.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Feb. 1, 2010

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