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Some 55 million Americans suffer from joint pain and arthritis. Recent developments, however, offer hope for new ways to deal with this epidemic.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston operates a Cartilage Repair Center, where surgeons use a procedure called autologous chondrocyte implantation to regenerate damaged cartilage: They remove healthy cartilage cells from a patient’s creaky knee, culture them in the lab, and then inject the new cells into the joint. The treatment, together with physical therapy, has been shown to delay joint-replacement surgery for some patients.

This type of “Jiffy Lube” approach to joint repair is what Michael Longaker, MD, and his Stanford University colleagues envision as a way to perhaps prevent surgical solutions. “You don’t wait for damage to accumulate,” he explains. “You go in periodically and use this technique to boost your articular cartilage before you have a problem.”

Their research suggests that scientists may be able to regrow articular cartilage by causing a slight injury to the tissue before using chemical signals to promote the growth of skeletal stem cells during the healing process.

Most recently, a 2022 study published in Science Translational Medicine describes how University of Connecticut scientists were able to regrow cartilage in a rabbit’s knee by implanting a tissue scaffold made from nanofibers that produce a weak electrical current. Known as piezoelectricity, the current encourages cartilage growth.

More work needs to be done before the procedure can be tested on larger animals, including humans, reports lead study author Yang Liu, PhD.

This article originally appeared as “Cultivating Cartilage for Join Repair” in the October 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Craig Cox
Craig Cox

Craig Cox is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of healthy aging.

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