Johns Hopkins Reviews Stem Cell Treatment for Joint Repair

Sep 18, 2019

Hopkins biomedical engineers have been successful in growing tissue that’s similar to cartilage, a process that could one day be used to fix injured knees via a minimally invasive surgery. 

The researchers inject a nutrient- and stem cell-rich fluid into the tissue, then convert the liquid into gel by using light. The new structure may allow the stem cells to regenerate lost tissue and form new bone, cartilage and cells.

John Hopkins School of Medicine and biomedical engineering professor Jennifer Elisseeff reports that the stem cell procedure has progressed to mice testing, which should start this fall. 

The team is composed of multi-disciplinary personnel that includes graduate students, a polymer chemist, an orthopedic surgeon and a plastic surgeon, all of which are affiliated with the John Hopkins Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Department. 

The researchers’ aim is to ultimately control adult stem cell behavior and deliver it in a way that it could replace cartilage or bone that’s been damaged by disease, injury, or by a genetic defect. Cartilage restoration is particularly helpful, especially in cases of repairing joints, ears and noses where regeneration is a rare occurrence. 

Elisseeff mentions that while human application is still years away, it can impact regenerative medicine in a significant manner. If successful, patients may have new, living tissue instead of plastic or metal replacements.

Moreover, if the project proceeds and works according to plan, doctors and care providers may have a newer and better treatment option for patients suffering from arthritis and severe joint injuries. Stem cell therapy can be a viable solution that foregoes invasive surgery.

Elisseeff’s research involves stem cells and its remarkable ability to grow into various types of tissue. The team is currently working on the adult multipotent cell variety, which can differentiate into musculoskeletal tissue.

Controversies surrounding the use of stem cells are largely limited to those collected from human fetuses and embryos, but the team’s source comes from adult cells. The added benefit of using adult cells is that patients who need bone or cartilage repairs won’t need to wait for donor cells as they can use the stem cells they have in their own bodies. This lessens the chances of tissue rejection and infection.

The current work by Elisseeff and team has funding from the Arthritis Foundation and builds on previous projects that she began as a Harvard University graduate student, particularly in the Sciences and Technology Health division.

Elisseeff studied and developed chondrocytes, which are polymer fluids that contain cartilage cells and are hardened using visible laser or ultraviolet light. The hydrogel creates a framework or scaffold that new cells can use as a base of operations for creating new tissue.

Elisseeff says that hydrogels are useful as they harden only with light. Moreover, cartilage cells or primary chondrocytes may be contained within the structure to form cartilage. Hydrogel inherently has lots of water, where cells can thrive and work to carry waste from the body. Plus, it has the space to allow for new tissue regeneration.

Currently, the team is working on putting the stem cells in hydrogel material and having them differentiate to create cartilage within the polymer framework. Plastic surgeon Christopher Williams has begun experimenting on stem cells collected from adult goats. Williams has surrounded the cells with certain growth factors to have them differentiate into osteoblasts that could later turn into chondrocytes.

Cartilage samples have shown promise in that the material has the proper extracellular matrix and gene expression. Further lab tests reveal that the precursor cells have begun producing calcium, which is a precursor to osteogenesis.

Elisseeff states that the team has progressed to the point where adult stem cells can be used to form tissue material that’s similar to cartilage in terms of morphology and composition within the photopolymerizing hydrogel. Moreover, the professor has reason to believe that the method may be used to recreate bone material and structures as well.

She further declares that the stem cells and injectable hydrogel material make up a clinically sound process of delivering material to the patient’s injured area to help with regenerating and growing new cartilage and bone.

The team cites some challenges, notably joining the new cells seamlessly to the patient’s tissue, but are currently working to address them as soon as possible.

The researchers are also in the process of creating a new hydrogel that decomposes harmlessly as new tissue develops, and cell growth methods that mimic natural bone and cartilage cell development.

 

To your health,

The Healing Miracle Team

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1 Comment

  1. Lorraine Huska

    I am very.interested in this research as I suffer .from both knees & shoulders damaged as well as spinal severe degeneration & due to accident @ work & from car accidents. Where I live I was not even properly compensated though neither were my fault. Both shoulders need reverve replacement which result in months of recovery & therapy which I mostly have to pay for. I have already pd with my life which has been extremely limited not to mention painful. I have desperately been searching for other ways to heal before it is too late! I am 66yrs & have not been able to work as a nurse or @ anything since 54. I now live on my pension etc. My back injury was since 2004 (51.yrs old) Ihave suffered severe pain since. I am a grandma of six mother of three children who live else where & it is very complicated to travel./ even be a part of there lives in the real not just social media!
    Other than chiro massage physio exercises naturopathic medicine biofeedback appts which are expensive with limited medical insurance & the benifits limited &/only temporary I am left to suffer. What’s really frustrating is being told its only old age which I do not believe in esp for injurued joints & tissue. Ie: a torn rotator cuff doesnt happen due to old age!! It is extemely difficult just to do ADL. I do not use opiods for pain control etc I have been active all my life & eat healthy I am lean. . I strongly beleive in functional medicine & find most of the regular medical community of DRs ‘use the bandaide approach. I beleive here in Canada more research money should be spent on stem sell rearch etc. So this article gives me & others great hope. Signed struggling to just survive!!

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