Tissue Scaffold may Provide New Relief for Arthritis Patients

May 12, 2009

A new tissue scaffold built by MIT researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from Cambridge University, stimulates bone and cartilage growth and may be a potential new target for treating arthritis.

A new tissue scaffold built by MIT researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from Cambridge University, stimulates bone and cartilage growth and may be a potential new target for treating arthritis.

The scaffold is built of two layers—one that mimics bone and one that mimics cartilage. In studies, when inserted into a joint, the scaffold stimulated mesenchymal stem cells within the bone marrow to produce new bone and cartilage. In a16-week study, the researchers discovered that bone and cartilage growth were successfully stimulated in the knees of goats.

Construction of the tissue scaffold began with a pre-existing skin scaffold made of collagen from bovine tendon and glycosaminoglycan, a long polysaccharide chain. The collagen scaffold was mineralized with sources of calcium and phosphate to mimic bone structure. The next step was the creation of the two-layer osteochondral scaffold.

"If someone had a damaged region in the cartilage, you could remove the cartilage and the bone below it and put our scaffold in the hole," said Lorna Gibson, MIT Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and co-leader of the research team.

Though the scaffolds are only about 8mm in diameter as of now, and thus only able to treat small defects, it has been approved to begin clinical trials in Europe. Andrew Lynn, of Cambridge University and one of Gibson’s collaborators, launched Orthomimetics, the company that received the license for the scaffold.

The researchers said that the new scaffold could serve as “a potential new treatment for sports injuries and other cartilage damage, such as arthritis.” Gibson added that it would be less painful, less expensive, and more helpful than already-existing therapies for cartilage injuries, which include “stimulating the bone marrow to release stem cells by drilling a hole through the cartilage into the bone; transplanting cartilage and the underlying bone from another, less highly loaded part of the joint; or removing cartilage cells from the body, stimulating them to grow in the lab and re-implanting them.”

"We tried to design it so it's similar to the transition in the body,” Gibson said. “That's one of the unique things about it.”