Revolutionary artificial knee cartilage outperforms the real thing, study finds

[Apr. 2, 2023: JJ Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]

Duke University researchers have developed a new gel-based cartilage substitute that is stronger and more durable than natural cartilage. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Researchers at Duke University have developed a new gel-based cartilage substitute that is stronger and more durable than natural cartilage. Knee pain due to progressive wear and tear of the cartilage, known as osteoarthritis, affects nearly one in six adults worldwide.

The gel-based substitute offers patients a way to avoid knee replacement surgery and may provide a more effective treatment option for those with knee pain. The implant is currently being developed and tested in sheep by Sparta Biomedical, with human clinical trials expected to begin in 2023.

In tests, the hydrogel was found to be 26% stronger than natural cartilage in tension and 66% stronger in compression. The team solved several design challenges in creating the implant, such as attaching it to the joint and keeping it in place, which previous studies were unable to achieve.

The team’s method of attachment involves cementing and clamping the hydrogel to a titanium base, which is then pressed and anchored into a hole where the damaged cartilage was. The hydrogel mimics the smooth, slippery and cushioned nature of real cartilage and provides a more durable and effective treatment option for people with knee pain.

Related News

Knee pain is a common condition for many people, especially as they age. Pain can be caused by a range of factors, including injury, overuse, and conditions such as osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects nearly one in six adults worldwide, or 867 million people. It is a progressive condition that wears down the cartilage that protects the ends of bones and can lead to chronic pain, inflammation and stiffness.

There are several treatment options for knee pain relief, including over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, and steroid injections. However, for some patients, these treatments are not enough to provide relief and knee replacement surgery may be required.

Knee replacement surgery involves removing the damaged cartilage and replacing it with an artificial joint made of metal or polyethylene. Although this surgery can be successful, it is a major operation that requires months of rehabilitation and can carry risks, such as infection and blood clots.

A hydrogel-based implant could replace worn out cartilage and relieve knee pain without replacing the entire joint. (CREDIT: Benjamin Wiley, Duke University)

A new option may soon be available for knee pain sufferers that could provide less invasive and more effective treatment. Researchers at Duke University have developed a gel-based cartilage substitute that is stronger and more durable than natural cartilage. The team, led by chemistry professor Benjamin Wiley and mechanical engineering and materials science professor Ken Gall, published their findings in the journal Advanced functional materials.

The hydrogel is made from thin sheets of cellulose fibers infused with a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol. The cellulose fibers act like the collagen fibers in natural cartilage, giving the gel strength when stretched, while the polyvinyl alcohol helps it spring back to its original shape. The resulting material is a jelly-like substance that is 60% water but is surprisingly tough.

A synthetic hydrogel composite with greater strength and wear resistance than cartilage. (CREDIT: Advanced Functional Materials)

The researchers found that the hydrogel can be squeezed and pulled with more force than natural cartilage and is three times more resistant to wear. Natural cartilage can withstand up to 8,500 pounds per inch of pulling and crushing before breaking, while the lab-made version can withstand even more. It is 26% stronger than natural cartilage in tension and 66% stronger in compression.

In addition to being stronger, the hydrogel mimics the smooth, slippery and cushioned nature of real cartilage, protecting other joint surfaces from friction as they slide against the implant. The researchers tested the wear of the implant over time by rotating artificial cartilage and natural cartilage against each other a million times, with pressure similar to that which the knee experiences during walking .

Using a high-resolution X-ray scanning technique called microcomputer tomography, the scientists found that the surface of the implanted cartilage remained smooth and intact after the million rotations, indicating that it had minimal wear.

The researchers were delighted with their test results, as they suggested the implant could potentially last for many years without needing to be replaced. However, they knew that further testing would be needed to confirm their findings and ensure the implant was safe and effective for use in humans.

To that end, the team began planning a series of animal studies to assess the long-term safety and effectiveness of the implant. They also began exploring potential partnerships with medical device companies to help bring their technology to market and make it available to patients in need.

As news of the breakthrough spread, the research team received numerous accolades and awards for their work. They were even invited to present their findings at international conferences and symposia, where they shared their insights with other researchers and healthcare professionals.

Despite the recognition they received, the researchers remained focused on their ultimate goal: to develop a safe and effective implant that could help improve the lives of people with knee osteoarthritis. And with each new study and experiment, they came one step closer to achieving that goal.

For more scientific news, see our New Innovations section on The bright side of the news.

Note: The documents provided above by The bright side of the news. Content may be edited for style and length.

Do you like these kind of wellness stories? Get the Brighter Side of News Newsletter.

Leave a Comment