(ĐTĐ) – Tiny spheres made from the patient’s own cells are being used to treat arthritis. The tissue globes are injected into damaged joints where they grow into new cartilage.
The technology has already been used in Italy to repair hip cartilage; now more than 200 people with knee arthritis are taking part in trials comparing the new treatment to conventional therapy.
Around seven million Britons are thought to have long-term health problems as a result of arthritis.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage surface of the joint is damaged. It is often associated with age, being overweight, joint injury and a family history of the condition.
As the disease progresses, the cartilage can become misshapen or worn away, leaving the bones exposed to rub against each other.
The problem is that cartilage, unlike many other tissues, cannot repair itself. As a result, patients need to either take painkillers to control their discomfort or, in severe cases, may even require joint replacement surgery.
However, this new treatment — known as tissue engineering — may provide an alternative.
New hope: Tissue engineering could ease arthritic pain
Tissue engineering is a fast emerging technology, which is being used for a range of problems caused by injury, disease, genetic abnormality and ageing.
The replacement tissues are grown from living cells and, so far, skin blood vessels and bone have been grown in this way.
With this new cartilage treatment, cells called chondrocytes are taken from healthy cartilage in the patient.
They are cultured in the laboratory for five to seven weeks. During this time, the cells produce their own ‘scaffolding’, which means they grow into balls or spheres — this is significant as they give depth to the new tissue.
The spheres are then injected into the affected areas. Between ten and 70 spheres are put into each square centimetre of damaged tissue — research shows the spheres knit together and grow into new cartilage lining.
After treatment, patients perform rehabilitation exercises, such as moving the knee in different ways, to get the joint working properly.
Trials using the technology in knees are now under way at the University of Mannheim and a number of centres in Germany. If all goes well, the technology — which was developed by a German biotech company, co.don — could be more widely used within two years.
Jane Tadman, of Arthritis Research UK, said the technique of using a patient’s own cells to treat cartilage damage was currently the subject of a large clinical trial in the UK.
‘Our scientists are about to run a clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of stem cells taken from a patient’s own bone marrow cells in repairing worn cartilage in osteoarthritis of the knee with cultured cartilage cells (chondrocytes) or a combination of both types of cells, which could have huge significance.
‘However, the real question is whether such methods can replace or replenish large areas of cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis — and that’s what this new German study is proposing,’ says Jane.
‘Cartilage repair is a hugely exciting field and has enormous clinical potential for the millions of people with osteoarthritis.
‘Although there are a number of medical and technical issues to be addressed, hopefully this approach could be a realistic possibility in the future.’