Innovative hydrogel developed for articular cartilage repair

September 15, 2021
Innovative hydrogel developed for articular cartilage repair

A new injectable hydrogel has been designed to help articular cartilage defects, incorporating a unique combination of ultraviolet (UV) light and an ultrafast-affixing hydrogel compound. Fabricated by a team of researchers from various institutions in China, the hydrogel exhibits high mechanical strength as well as strong adhesion properties, enabling long-term cartilage regeneration and restoration of articular function.

Current methods to repair damaged cartilage involves the use of a hydrogel scaffold packed with chondrocytes (cells contained in healthy cartilage connective tissue), usually inserted through an invasive procedure. Unfortunately, these older hydrogels have insufficient binding strength to surrounding tissue to promote repair; and often require lengthy and painful recovery periods.

The injectable hydrogel, however, can be used without the need for surgery: it uses light-initiated processes that result in a gel compound that could be manipulated into very small shapes and inserted into a scaffold. In the presence of UV light, the gel would harden within ten seconds in the scaffolding with its load of chondrocytes to grow new cartilage.

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The researchers tried a variety of scaffolding shapes using mice and pigs that had defective cartilage and monitored the growth of cartilage using MRI scans. They found that after approximately eight weeks, the cartilage regrew in the mice; and in six months, the cartilage in the pigs was restored.

The researchers plan to continue testing their hydrogel approach and expect to begin human trials soon—if all turns out well, they expect their approach to become standard treatment for articular cartilage repair.

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