News / Health

Regrowing Worn Joints Using Patient Stem Cells

Researchers explore new, more natural way of dealing with joint damage

Various stages of cartilage growth on scaffold. The final image on the right shows naturally forming cartilage for comparison.
Various stages of cartilage growth on scaffold. The final image on the right shows naturally forming cartilage for comparison.


Smitha Raghunathan

Millions of people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. The most severe cases requiring joint replacement surgery.

These replacement joints can be made of combinations of metal alloys, plastic and ceramic, but new research shows that it might be possible to regenerate damaged joints using a patient's own stem cells.

Chronic disability

Osteoarthritis is the result of infection, trauma or simply age, and is the leading cause of chronic disability worldwide.

The disease causes cartilage-protecting joint surfaces to degrade, allowing painful bone-to-bone contact. Osteoarthritis is usually treated with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, but in severe cases, the damaged joint can be replaced with an artificial one. However, this option may not work well for the growing population of younger arthritic patients.

"The average lifespan of the metal joints is about 10 to 15 years," says Jeremy Mao at the Columbia University Medical Center. "So as you can imagine, if you are say 50, 55 or younger, the surgeons will be very hesitant to place these metal joints in your body because knowing that in 10 to 15 years, there's a chance these would fail."

In order to address this concern, Mao is exploring new ways to regenerate joints.

This x-ray shows shows an artificial knee joint, but now scientists are exploring regenerating damaged joints using a patient's own stem cells.
This x-ray shows shows an artificial knee joint, but now scientists are exploring regenerating damaged joints using a patient's own stem cells.

Growing new joint cells

Mao replaced a portion of a rabbit's upper arm joint with a biomaterial scaffold, providing a place for cells to grow. In order to attract the rabbit's own stem cells to re-grow the cartilage, channels in the scaffold were filled with a growth factor protein.

"What we found was with one protein that we delivered in the micro-channels in the scaffolds, that was sufficient to regenerate the entire joint surface with cartilage and with bone and with blood vessels," says Mao. "So when we observe these animals with the replacement joints, what we found was there was regeneration of the entire joint that allowed the animals to resume weight-bearing and locomotion."

This return to normalcy occurred just four months after the surgical procedure, with newly grown cartilage fully covering the joint surface. When the mechanical properties of this new cartilage were tested, they showed that the regenerated cells were just as effective as the rabbit's naturally formed cartilage.

Added benefits

While human trials are still a long way off, scientists in the field are excited and encouraged by the research.

"It's absolutely necessary that we continue to push the envelope in terms of try to develop new innovative and more natural ways of effectively treating arthritis," says Dr. Mary O'Connor, chairperson of Orthopedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.

O'Connor says there is significant benefit to using this type of treatment for arthritis in the knee.

"When we do a knee replacement, we remove one or sometimes both of the cruciate ligaments - which are the ligaments in the center of the knee. So one of the potential advantages of this growing joint technique is perhaps the ability to preserve more of those tissues inside the knee, which would hopefully translate into more natural mechanics of the knee."

O'Connor says cost could be a factor in deciding to use this treatment. While it may not be worthwhile for older patients, younger patients are more likely to regard anything that gives them a lifelong working knee joint as well worth the cost.

You May Like

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs