DURHAM, N.C. -- Using a unique weaving machine of their design, Duke University Medical Center researchers have created a three-dimensional fabric "scaffold" that could greatly improve the ability of physicians to repair damaged joints with the patient's own stem cells.
"If further experiments are successful, the scaffold could be used in clinical trials within three or four years," said Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory who designed and built the weaving machine. "The first joints to be treated this way would likely be hips and shoulders, though the approach should work for cartilage damage in any joint."
The researchers reported the new technology in the February 2007 issue of the journal Nature Materials. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Coulter Foundation.
Current therapies to repair cartilage damage are not effective, the researchers said. The only bioengineering approach to such joint repair involves removing cartilage cells from patients and then "growing" them in a laboratory to form new cartilage. However, it can take several months to grow a piece of cartilage large enough to be implanted back into the patient. Additionally, this laboratory-grown cartilage is not as durable as native cartilage.
In laboratory tests, the fabric scaffold that the researchers have created had the same mechanical properties as native cartilage. In the near future, surgeons will be able to impregnate custom-designed scaffolds with cartilage-forming stem cells and chemicals that stimulate their growth and then implant them into patients during a single procedure, the researchers said.
"By taking a synthetic material that already has the properties of cartilage and combining it with living cells, we can build a human tissue that can be integrated rapidly into the body, representing a new approa
Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center