UK researchers are working on new bioglass technology that could represent an important step forward in the treatment of cartilage damage.
Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Milano-Bicocca have created a material that mimics the shock-absorbing and load-bearing qualities of real cartilage, potentially opening the door for improved implant technology to be developed.
Bioglass was originally developed in the 1960s to help heal bones of Vietnam War veterans who suffered combat injuries. However, the new version offers a number of improvements.
It consists of silica and a plastic or polymer called polycaprolactone, and provides cartilage-like properties including flexibility, strength, durability and resilience. It can be made in a biodegradable ink form, meaning it can be 3D-printed into structures that encourage cartilage cells in the knee to form and grow. It has also demonstrated self-healing properties when it gets damaged.
With its beneficial qualities established, the team is now looking to develop implants for replacing damaged cartilage discs between vertebrae.
A step forward
For example, synthetic bioglass cartilage disc implants could be created that provide the same mechanical properties as real cartilage, but without the need for the metal and plastic support devices that are currently available.
The team is also looking to create tiny biodegradable scaffolds using the bioglass ink, providing a template that replicates the structure of real cartilage in the knee. When implanted, the bioglass would encourage cartilage cells to grow through microscopic pores, with scaffold disappearing over time and leaving new cartilage in its place.
Professor Julian Jones, one of the developers of the bioglass from the department of materials at Imperial College London, said: “Patients will readily attest to loss of mobility that is associated with degraded cartilage and the lengths they will go to try and alleviate often excruciating pain.
“We still have a long way to go before this technology reaches patients, but we’ve made some important steps in the right direction to move this technology towards the marketplace, which may ultimately provide relief to people around the world.”
Arthritis Research UK’s view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: “There are ten million people living with the pain of arthritis or a severe musculoskeletal condition in the UK, and there is potential for this type of regenerative medicine to transform their lives.
“The ability to regrow healthy cartilage for people with osteoarthritis and back pain would improve lives by reducing pain and increasing mobility. Because of this large potential benefit, we invest in more than £5 million into this type of research across the UK, including almost £2 million in the flagship Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre.”
Source: Arthritis Research UK