Growing Cartilage: Bioactive Nanomaterial Promotes Growth of New Cartilage

ScienceDaily (Feb. 8, 2010) — Northwestern University researchers are the first to design a bioactive nanomaterial that promotes the growth of new cartilage in vivo and without the use of expensive growth factors. Minimally invasive, the therapy activates the bone marrow stem cells and produces natural cartilage. No conventional therapy can do this.

The results will be published online the week of Feb. 1 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Unlike bone, cartilage does not grow back, and therefore clinical strategies to regenerate this tissue are of great interest," said Samuel I. Stupp, senior author, Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, and Medicine, and director of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine. Countless people -- amateur athletes, professional athletes and people whose joints have just worn out -- learn this all too well when they bring their bad knees, shoulders and elbows to an orthopaedic surgeon.

Damaged cartilage can lead to joint pain and loss of physical function and eventually to osteoarthritis, a disorder with an estimated economic impact approaching $65 billion in the United States. With an aging and increasingly active population, this is expected to grow.

"Cartilage does not regenerate in adults. Once you are fully grown you have all the cartilage you'll ever have," said first author Ramille N. Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Shah is also a resident faculty member at the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine.

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