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Can An Injection Cure Damaged Joints?

Written by Gregory Montalbano, M.D., iOrtho

Findings recently published in a scientific journal for Regenerative Medicine, provide a potential new therapeutic strategy that may help repair damaged cartilage and prevent osteoarthritis.

Articular cartilage is the tissue that covers the end of bone in joints. It helps prevent friction between bones and acts as a shock absorber during regular physical activities. Damage to or loss of this specialized surface from ‘wear and tear’ or ‘trauma’ is called osteoarthritis.

Historically here has been no way to restore cartilage in joints that have sustained cartilage damage or loss. A technique called microfracture, for which surgeons create a small passageway on the surface of the cartilage defect that connects the bone marrow to the site of injury and allows cells from the bone marrow to move to the damaged area and begin to produce new cartilage. This procedure has drawbacks in that it requires surgery, a period of non-weight bearing and the repaired tissue is not identical to articular cartilage and less durable. Other procedures such as ACI -Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation has similar drawbacks. The gold standard for the treatment of osteoarthritis remains artificial joint replacement.

In a new study, an international team of researchers refined a stem cell-based procedure that produces longer-lasting, higher-quality cartilage.

A breed of miniature pig had modified regenerative cells implanted into experimentally damaged knees, which led to integration and repair of the damaged cartilage. After six months, the repaired tissue had all of the physical and molecular characteristics of undamaged cartilage. The tissue even got thicker and more compressible — qualities that help cartilage to cushion the joints. The study also found that the injected cells caused the pig’s own body to start making cartilage cells to further help in damage repair.

The scientists also developed a liquid in which the injectable cartilage cells can be frozen and later revived for application in the doctor’s office. Further testing will be required before this treatment potentially translates into clinical use however it is an exciting area of research and this procedure or others similar to it will likely be the future direction of managing cartilage injury and osteoarthritis.

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Reference: Petrigliano FA, et al. Long-term repair of porcine articular cartilage using cryopreservable, clinically compatible human embryonic stem cell-derived chondrocytes. NPJ Regenerative Medicine. 2021;77(6). doi: 10.1038/s41536-021-00187-3

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