An injectable gel that could repair cartilage and prevent osteoarthritis is every athlete’s dream product. A University of Iowa orthopedics research team is working on a solution that could make those dreams come true.
“We are creating an [injectable, bioactive] hydrogel that can repair cartilage, regenerate stronger cartilage, hopefully delay or eliminate the development of osteoarthritis and eliminate the need for total knee replacement,” explains Yin Yu, one of the project’s main researchers, on the website of the UI Health Care.
The scientists first made a surprising discovery—they identified cells within normal cartilage that can mature into new cartilage tissue. Before, researchers thought that cartilage could not repair itself. The team also identified “molecular signaling factors” that literally attract those precursor cells.
In an experimental model of cartilage injury, Yin Yu loaded the hydrogel with one of these growth factors and injected it into the cartilage. The precursor cells migrated toward the growth factor and filled in the injury site. Subsequent application of this factor caused the cells to mature into normal cartilage that repaired the injury.