In this method, doctors would inject a fluid filled with stem cells and nutrients into damaged tissue, then use light to harden the liquid into a stable gel. Although human testing remains years away, the researchers believe stem cells within the gel will multiply and form new bone or cartilage to replace the injured tissue.
Paving the way for this technique, the researchers have conducted lab experiments that turned stem cells within a gel into cartilage-like tissue. The team expects to begin testing the process on mice this fall, says Jennifer Elisseeff, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Elisseeff is leading a multidisciplinary tissue engineering team that includes a plastic surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, a polymer chemist and graduate students, all affiliated with the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute at Johns Hopkins.
The team's goal is to develop a new way to deliver and control the behavior of adult stem cells to restore bone and cartilage that has been damaged by disease or injury or is impaired by a genetic defect. Restoration of cartilage the tough but elastic tissue in noses, ears and joints would be particularly helpful because, unlike skin, cartilage does not naturally regenerate. Routine use of this procedure in humans may be many years away, Elisseeff says, but the potential benefits could be significant. For one thing, if the lab results can be replicated in humans, patients would end up with living tissue rather than metal or plastic replacement parts. "If this technique ultimately works the way we believe it will, doctors will have a new and possibly more effective option for treating severe joint injuries," Elisseeff says. "T
Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University