Growing New Cartilage for Knees

February 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Bending down or getting up can be a painful chore for someone with knee problems. Doctors say many times the loud creaking in a person's bones can be blamed on a loss of cartilage, but researchers are close to finding a permanent solution. They're helping the body heal itself by naturally re-growing cartilage. Getting down to her granddaughter's level is difficult for 60-year-old Kathleen Haberstroh.

"It hurts," she described to Ivanhoe. "It shoots up and down my leg and I can actually hear the bones grinding."

Thomas Webster, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer at Brown University in Providence, R.I., developed a solution that could soon help people like Haberstroh naturally regenerate cartilage in their own bodies.

"We developed a material that serves as a band-aid that can be put in the place of the degenerated cartilage," Dr. Webster explained to Ivanhoe.

He created molecular-scale tubes made of carbon that would be implanted in a person's knee. The tubes' rough surfaces are similar to natural tissue, which attracts cartilage-growing cells.

"We're more or less tricking the body into thinking we're implanting part of itself," Dr. Webster said.

Every time a person takes a step, the pressure on the tubes generates electricity. That current triggers the cells to grow cartilage.

"Cells which are residing on the material can feel and sense and grow much more effectively than without that electrical property," Dr. Webster said.

The goal: produce new cartilage and help Haberstroh play without pain.

"It would make things a lot happier because I wouldn't be left out a lot," Haberstroh said.

It could be a permanent solution for those who don't want to miss a moment of the action.

Dr. Webster and his team are still testing the cartilage regeneration procedure. Right now doctors inject an artificial gel to imitate cartilage in the knee, but that's only a temporary solution requiring follow-up injections.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Thomas Webster, Brown University
(401) 863-2318
Thomas_Webster@brown.edu

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