New Cartilage Repair Technique Offers New Hope for Injured Knees

Scientists from the University of Leicester are taking revolutionary research further with the potential to offer new hope for knee injury victims.

They are following up international research that aims to improve knee cartilage repair techniques, called chondrocyte implantation. The procedure, developed in Sweden ten years ago, involves growing a patient’s knee cartilage cells in a laboratory, which are then implanted through open knee surgery. Recent exciting developments revolve around the materials or ‘scaffolds’ that the cells are grown on. The scaffold is inserted into the knee with the seeded cells growing on it, and disintegrates slowly once the knee’s cartilage cells have become established.

Dr Paul Jenkins from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leicester, and orthopedic surgeon Dr Mike Harding from the University’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Glenfield Hospital are collaborating to find the perfect biodegradable polymer scaffold.

Dr Jenkins said: “We are using a polymer that is based on hyaluronic acid, which has great potential, because it degrades to an acid that is naturally present as a lubricant in all of our joints. The scaffold must be adhesive so that it stays in place inside the knee until enzymes in the knee degrade it. Probably the best known scaffold material is the benzyl ester of hyaluronic acid is extremely sticky when the chondrocyte cells are growing in it. Our aim is to prepare and test new derivatives of hyaluronic acid to produce even better biodegradable matrix materials.”

Mr. Harding said: “Cartilage tissue is mostly composed of a stiff, spongy matrix material produced by the cartilage cells. A property of the scaffold should be that it promotes the configuration of cartilage cells into the matrix shape. We are currently exploring the growth of cells onto different polymer scaffolds.”

The research is in the experimental stages, and has not yet been clinically tested. If the material proves to be a successful cartilage scaffold, extensive trials will be needed to allow it to be clinically tested for its reliability as a general surgical procedure for damaged knees.

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