A 5-year, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University to build a microfactory that churns out a formula to produce joint cartilage.
The end product could one day benefit many of the tens of millions of people in the United States who suffer from cartilage loss or damage.
Articular cartilage coats the ends of long bones, bearing loads, absorbing shocks and, with synovial fluid, enabling knees, hips and shoulders to smoothly bend, lift and rotate. Since the tissue has little ability to repair or heal itself, there is a critical need for new therapeutic strategies.
Artificial substitutes can’t match the real thing, and efforts to engineer articular cartilage have been stymied by the complex process of turning stem cells into the desired tissue. Alsberg has previously coaxed stem cells obtained from adult bone marrow and fat tissue into cartilage. His lab has designed an array of new materials with controllable characteristics, such as physical properties, cell adhesive properties and the capacity to control the delivery of bioactive factors.
By controlling the presentation of these signals to cells, both independently and in combination, along with the regulated presentation of mechanical signals, his group aims to identify key cues that are important for changing stem cells into cartilage-producing cells.
The team expects to test and analyse more than 3,000 combinations of factors that may influence cell development, including different types and amounts of biochemicals, extracellular matrix properties, compressive stresses and more. They hope to begin testing conditions identified from these studies in animal models by the end of the grant term.
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