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Reconstruction of Cartilaginous Tissue using Nanotechnologies

Researchers throughout the world have long been searching for an approach to therapy of patients, suffering from cartilage injuries. One of the methods, widely used in clinical practice, implies injection of gel, possessing shock-absorbing properties, inherent to cartilaginous tissue. However, this can be just a temporary measure and in the long run the patient will continuously need gel to be repeatedly injected in the injured region.
Nanotechnology specialists from Brown University, led by Thomas Webster, have found a way to reconstruct the cartilage by means of transplantation to the injured region of a synthetic matrix, capable of attracting chondrogenic cells to this location. These cells can then be stimulated into proliferation by weak electrical pulses. This first research, describing such a technique, and its results are published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.

Very often a gradual degeneration of a cartilage, resulting from a pathological process, does not create inconvenience to a person, until the cartilage is finally lost and the bone heads start contacting each other, provoking a severe pain. The scientists used carbon nanotubes – material, possessing high-strength and conductive properties. Currently carbon nanotubes are widely studied in many diverse fields, including medicine.

Webster and his colleagues have detected, that due to their surface properties the carbon nanotubes form a matrix, facilitating adhesion of chondroblasts (cells, producing cartilaginous tissue). At the microscopic level the surface of the matrix is ‘shaggy’ and looks like a natural extracellular cartilaginous matrix.

Earlier research used materials with a smoother surface at the nanolevel. These could not adhere to the injured region very tightly and didn’t ensure sufficient adhesion of chondroblasts. Apart from this researchers have shown, that weak electrical pulses can stimulate cell fission. However, the mechanism of this process remains uncertain. Most likely, electrical pulses stimulate a more intense entry of calcium ions, playing an important role in the proliferation of chondroblasts, to cells.

The team intends to put its development into clinical practice. Apart from the cartilage regeneration the researchers are working on the methods of bone tissue reconstruction – last year results of their work were published in ‘Nanotechnology’ magazine. The principle of bone tissue reconstruction is similar – osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) are inclined to adhesion to carbon nanotubes and to proliferation in response to weak electrical pulses.

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