'Home grown' joints
The body's own cells could be used to aid the repair of joints, a pioneering rabbit study has revealed. Scientists made computer-designed shoulder joint scaffolds out of biodegradable polymer and added growth factors, which attracted stem cells.
In total 23 rabbits were used, of which 20 had bioscaffold replacements after the removal of their shoulder joint. The remaining three rabbits did not receive the bioscaffold. Half the 20 rabbits also had their scaffolds coated in the growth factor TGFß3. The team then studied the rabbits' ability to walk and took bone and cartilage samples.
Within a month of surgery all rabbits with the growth factor were better able to bear weight than those without. The rabbits without the scaffold were not able to move as well. Scaffolds with the growth factor were covered fully in the cartilage which naturally lines the joints. Rabbits without the growth factor had limited cartilage formation.
The researchers are still unsure as to where the stem cells came from. They suggest the growth factor can attract different cell types for limb growth. More research is needed to work out how specific cell populations could be made to promote the growth of more complex tissues. But this work paves the way for a future of naturally grown joints that would last longer than current artificial joint replacements.