Artificially grown cartilage could reduce the need for joint replacements in osteoarthritis patients

Scientists at the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with colleagues at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, have artificially grown cartilage tissue which, they hope, could eventually reduce the need for invasive and costly joint replacements in patients with osteoarthritis.

Using cells from healthy cartilage to produce starter cultures, the researchers then use 3D printing technology to produce the tissue. Such an approach would mean patients didn’t have to undergo major invasive surgery and potentially save the NHS the cost of expensive metal implants.

“More and more people are having joint replacements, they are having them younger and they’re wearing out - so people increasingly have to go back in for another surgery to put a new one in” said Megan Cooke, a PhD student in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Physical Sciences for Health Centre for Doctoral Training, who has been working on the project alongside surgeons from Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and counterparts at the University of Huddersfield.

“Instead of replacing the whole joint we would just be replacing the bits that have started to wear out. It would provide an early therapeutic strategy rather than waiting until joint replacement is the only option.”

Although still in its early stages, it is hoped the work, recently published in the journal Advanced Materials, could lead to the production of cartilage tissue which could be implanted into patients to repair damaged and worn joints. The next step will be to refine the process and seek approval for trials of the manufactured cartilage in patients.

Liam Grover, Professor in Biomaterials Science at the University of Birmingham, added: “Ultimately this process has the potential to produce structures that could make their way into clinical trial in the relative short term.”