Arthritis affects nearly a quarter of all adults in the United States. There are medications that treat the symptoms and slow their progression, but no definitive way to reverse cartilage degeneration. There are procedures that replace damaged cartilage with healthy tissue taken from other areas of the body or from a donor. However, healthy cartilage is in low supply, and donor cartilage could be rejected by the recipient’s immune system. Thankfully, a recent Today article discussed a new breakthrough that could change the conversation around treating damaged cartilage.
A team of bioengineers at UConn has designed a tissue scaffold composed of nanofibers of a biodegradable polymer commonly used for surgical sutures. When squeezed, the nanomaterial produces a tiny burst of electrical current that promotes colonization of cells and cartilage growth. They used the technology to successfully regrow cartilage in the knee of an injured rabbit. After the implant, the rabbit exercised on a treadmill, and its cartilage regenerated to normal. They are now monitoring the rabbit to ensure the cartilage is durable. Next, the team will test the scaffolds in larger and older animals.