University of Southampton researchers have developed a new method of generating human cartilage tissue from stem cells that could be used as a new, long-lasting treatment for patients with cartilage damage.
Cartilage is a connective tissue that coats the surfaces of bones which gives shape, support, and structure to joints. Cartilage contains cells called chondrocytes, which produce proteins that stick together to form the gel-like, cartilaginous matrix that acts as a shock absorber and keeps joint motion fluid.
Overuse, inflammation and infection, and injury to joints can damage the cartilage, resulting in stiff and painful joints with a reduced range of motion. When cartilage wears down, bones rub against each other causing pain. Without treatment, further degeneration of the cartilage is likely to occur.
There are treatments available to limit the degradation of cartilage. Non-surgical treatments include weight loss, physiotherapy, and dietary supplements, but currently there are no therapeutic drugs that promote the healing of damaged articular cartilage.
Surgery may be an option to restore damaged cartilage by transplanting cartilage cells, but this treatment is not always successful and can be short-lived. The cartilage generated from transplanted cartilage cells has been shown to rapidly degrade after 5-10 years. Surgical treatments that allow long-term repair of damaged cartilage would require cartilage tissue to be implanted in the area of damage rather than cartilage cells.
Researchers at the Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells, and Regeneration at the University of Southampton have developed a new method of generating cartilage tissue from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). “We have developed a robust method to generate 3D, scaffold-free, hyaline cartilage tissue constructs from hESCs that are composed of numerous chondrocytes in lacunae, embedded in an extracellular matrix containing Type II collagen, sulphated glycosaminoglycans and Aggrecan,” wrote the researchers.
The researchers say the cartilage tissue they generated, which required no synthetic or natural supporting materials, was structurally and mechanically comparable to human cartilage and the method could be scaled up beyond 1mm without negatively affecting the structural or mechanical properties of the generated cartilage tissue. They claim their method could generate cartilage that could be transplanted for long-lasting repair of damaged cartilage.
You can read more about the research in the paper – A scaffold-free approach to cartilage tissue generation using human embryonic stem cells – which was recently published in Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-97934-9