Injectable gel can help repair damaged cartilage in osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis is one of the common endemic diseases of India, affecting a large population above the age of 60 years. It is a degenerative condition of bone that occurs as a result of aging and causes wear and tear of the bone. It is a type of arthritis, which is also known as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis.

Cartilage gives the cushioning effect at the joints, and also acts as a protector of the bone. In osteoarthritis, these natural cushioning effects get destroyed. As a result, the bones go through continuous and considerable friction between themselves, which leads to severe pain, inflammation, lack of motion and stiffness in the joint.
Osteoarthritis mostly affects the knee joint, but it can also be seen in other joints. Even though, it is considered as a degenerative condition that attacks elderly people but the chance are higher even when one enter into his/her late forties. It can also happen due to knee injuries in younger people, which can cause damage or rupture of the cartilage of the joint. Like other bone diseases, osteoarthritis is more prevalent in women than in men.

Apart from the aging factor, obesity is one of the major trigger factors of the condition, it exerts pressure on the joints beyond the normal limit, particularly on the knees. The chances of having the condition increases if you have the disease present in your family. Repetitive stress injury can also contribute to the disease. The patients who have rheumatoid arthritis are also at the higher risk of osteoarthritis.

Present treatments and their limitations:

The aim of the presently available treatment of osteoarthritis is to reduce the pain and other symptoms which impact mobility. The treatment involves mainly exercise, physiotherapy, and weight loss, and also a behavioral modification to improve the quality life. The doctor may also advise wearing orthopedic braces and supports, which helps reduce the pressure on the joints. He/she may also prescribe corticosteroid injections into the knees. Apart from these, surgical options like arthroscopy, arthroplasty, and osteotomy are proven to be very efficient and are very popular worldwide. At the same time, surgeries also come with certain risks which vary from procedure to procedure.

New Solution for Osteoarthritis:

A team of researchers at the University of Iowa is working on inventing a minimally invasive, and inexpensive solution which can help repair the cartilage and also prevent osteoarthritis.

According to the scientists, it is an injectable (bioactive) hydrogel. The first author, Mr. Yin Yu, who is one of the team members of the study, said that the injection can help the patients in many ways.

Some of the benefits are:

  • Can repair the damaged cartilage
  • Regenerate strong cartilage
  • Delay the occurrence of osteoarthritis
  • Eliminate the requirement for total knee replacement.

Earlier it was thought that cartilage is one of the few tissues, which cannot repair themselves after the damage. However, surprisingly, this team of researchers has discovered the precursor cells (parent cell) within normal cartilage, which can mature into new cartilage tissues. They also discovered the molecular signaling factors which are called as Chondrogenic progenitor cells. From the surrounding healthy tissues, the Chondrogenic cells attract the precursor cells into the damaged area of the cartilage and makes them develop into new and healthy cartilage.

Regarding quality, the researchers say that the new cartilage exhibits the equal level of contents like structural properties, proteoglycan just like the normal cartilage. Mechanically, these new tissues may not be strong as the normal one, but physiotherapy and exercise can improve it.

In India, a large percentage of the population above the age of 65 years suffers from osteoarthritis, and there is no real treatment except total knee replacement surgery. Further, knee replacement is not advisable in case of a young patient. In such cases, this new approach can work provided it gets approved and translated into a practical therapy approach.

The team plans to begin animal trial shortly, and human trial within 5 years. The FDA has already approved all the necessary components required for the trial. According to the lead of the study, Dr. James Martine, Ph.D., assistant professor of orthopedic and rehabilitation, this injectable therapy is also effective in enhancing body’s repair capacity. If the trial becomes successful, millions of patients with osteoarthritis can benefit without any surgical procedure.

Injection of platelet rich plasma:

The researchers of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine also found a solution for osteoarthritis. It is an Injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which can be very effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis. This study is published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA).

A clinical trial of this study has been conducted on a small group of patients. During the trial, the researchers found a significant improvement in the patients with osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal injuries. The patients experience relief for a period as long as a two years after PRP (plasma rich platelet) injection.

The procedure of giving the injection:

For injection procedure, the patient’s blood is withdrawn first and then spun to make platelet cells of high concentration. After that, it is injected back to the injury site to help with speeding the healing process. It is reported that some top levels of athletic players have used the PRP therapy to get rid of the injuries.

So, the injectable gel can be more convenient for the patients as compared to the surgical procedure. The patients can benefit from using some of the therapies mentioned above in future as they seem to be cost-effective, exhibit fewer complications, require no incision or hospitalization.

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