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Human cartilage grown from bone marrow stem cells for first time

Published on 01 May 2014
Human cartilage grown from bone marrow stem cells for first time

A groundbreaking study has developed a method of successfully growing fully-functional human cartilage in vitro from human stem cells derived from bone marrow tissue for the first time ever.

This new research, conducted by the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science in the US and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), could have significant implications for the future treatment of arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases.

Typically, the current approach to cartilage tissue engineering involves placing cells into a hydrogel and using nutrients, growth factors and mechanical loading to help them develop, but this produces mechanically weak cartilage when used with adult human stem cells.

For the new study, a method that more closely resembled the normal development of the skeleton was utilised. As such, the team allowed the mesenchymal stem cells to undergo a condensation stage - just as they do in the body - before starting to make cartilage.

Subsequent tests using the material showed its lubricative property and compressive strength approached those of native cartilage. The researchers were then able to regenerate large pieces of anatomically-shaped and mechanically strong cartilage over the bone, with the aim of repairing cartilage defects.

Next, the team will be be testing their engineered cartilage tissue to see if it maintains its structure and long-term function when implanted.

Study leader Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of medical sciences at Columbia Engineering, said: "This could have clinical impact, as this cartilage can be used to repair a cartilage defect, or in combination with bone in a composite graft grown in lab for more complex tissue reconstruction."

A spokesman for Arthritis Research UK said: "Engineered cartilage has to be strong and durable and to remain so when it's re-implanted into an area of damaged cartilage in the body. It's one thing to develop something that appears to have these qualities in a laboratory setting, but you have to be confident that it will be durable when used to treat a real-life patient.
"We're hoping to show that stem cells from bone marrow, cartilage cells or a combination of both can be used to treat patients with early osteoarthritis in the not-too-distant future."

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