In laboratory studies, Stanford School of Medicine researchers have found a way to regenerate the cartilage that eases movement between bones.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a way to regenerate, in mice and human tissue, the cushion of cartilage found in joints.
Loss of this slippery and shock-absorbing tissue layer, called articular cartilage, is responsible for many cases of joint pain and arthritis, which afflicts more than 55 million Americans. Nearly 1 in 4 adult Americans suffer from arthritis, and far more are burdened by joint pain and inflammation generally.
The Stanford researchers figured out how to regrow articular cartilage by first causing slight injury to the joint tissue, then using chemical signals to steer the growth of skeletal stem cells as the injuries heal. The work was published Aug. 17 in the journal Nature Medicine.
“Cartilage has practically zero regenerative potential in adulthood, so once it’s injured or gone, what we can do for patients has been very limited,” said assistant professor of surgery Charles K.F. Chan, PhD. “It’s extremely gratifying to find a way to help the body regrow this important tissue.”
The work builds on previous research at Stanford that resulted in isolation of the skeletal stem cell, a self-renewing cell that is also responsible for the production of bone, cartilage and a special type of cell that helps blood cells develop in bone marrow. The new research, like previous discoveries of mouse and human skeletal stem cells, were mostly carried out in the laboratories of Chan and professor of surgery Michael Longaker, MD.
Articular cartilage is a complex and specialized tissue that provides a slick and bouncy cushion between bones at the joints. When this cartilage is damaged by trauma, disease or simply thins with age, bones can rub directly against each other, causing pain and inflammation, which can eventually result in arthritis.
Damaged cartilage can be treated through a technique called microfracture, in which tiny holes are drilled in the surface of a joint. The microfracture technique prompts the body to create new tissue in the joint, but the new tissue is not much like cartilage.