"If further experiments are successful, the scaffold could be used in clinical trials within three or four years," said Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory of Duke University Medical Center who designed and built the weaving machine. "The first joints to be treated this way would likely be hips and shoulders, though the approach should work for cartilage damage in any joint."
Current therapies to repair cartilage damage are not effective, the researchers said. The only bioengineering approach to such joint repair involves removing cartilage cells from patients and then "growing" them in a laboratory to form new cartilage. However, it can take several months to grow a piece large enough to be implanted back into the patient.
Therefore, Moutos designed a special weaving machine that instead of weaving one set of fibers that are oriented perpendicularly to another set of fibers like most machines adds a third set of fibers, which creates a three-dimensional product. Also, since the scaffold is a woven material, there are tiny spaces where cartilage cells can nestle and grow.
In laboratory tests, the fabric scaffold that the researchers have created had the same mechanical properties as native cartilage. In the near future, surgeons will be able to impregnate custom-designed scaffolds with cartilage-forming stem cells and chemicals that stimulate their growth and then implant them into patients during a single procedure, the researchers said.
"Once implanted, the cartilage cells will grow throughout the scaffold, and over time the scaffold will slowly dissolve, leaving the new cartilage tissue" he said. "The use of this scaffold will also permit doctors to treat larger areas of cartilage damage, since the current approaches are only suitable for repairing smaller areas of cartilage damage or injury."
COMPAMED.de; Quelle: Duke University Medical Center