Developments to Watch
TINY IMPLANTS THAT HELP CARTILAGE GROW
Spongelike, biodegradable implants may someday aid those suffering from sports injuries, osteoarthritis, and other joint diseases. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have shown that the tiny devices can be used in rabbits to regenerate cartilage, the smooth material that covers the surfaces of joints. Unlike other tissues, cartilage cannot repair itself.
The implant, composed of man-made polymers, is surgical- ly inserted into the joint. It breaks down in about eight weeks and releases a growth factor--TGF beta--to stimulate cartilage regeneration. Unlike other experimental methods, this one doesn't involve taking tissues or cells from elsewhere in the body. Thus it avoids extra surgery or the risk of contamination when cells are grown in labs, says Kyriacos Athanasiou, director of the center's orthopedic biomechanics laboratory. His approach can't help when there's no cartilage left in the joint. And it may be years before it's ready for use in humans.