Changing Lives: Growing Past Cartilage Damage

At the collaborative interface between tissue engineering and clinical medicine, research done by Jason Burdick, assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering, and his Polymeric Biomaterials Laboratory has led to a novel way to allow patients to regrow Dr. Burdick in the labcartilage in their own bodies, directly in the site where it has been damaged.

There’s an urgent need for new cartilage repair therapies. Patients typically experience chronic pain because without cartilage there is no cushion on load-bearing joints. Unlike bone tissue, which if fractured will remodel itself and form new tissue, adult cartilage in its natural state does not regenerate due to the tissue lacking its own blood supply. But the body does contain cells that, given the conditions such as those demonstrated by Burdick’s group, will allow for cartilage matrix production, making them the perfect target for tissue engineering.

In this technique, these adult stem cells are removed from a patient and encapsulated in an engineered biomaterial known as a polymeric hydrogel using light for gel formation. The biomaterial could be directly formed or prefabricated and inserted back into an area of the patient’s own damaged cartilage. Over time, the biomaterial acts as both a stimulant to the treated cells and as a scaffold to promote new cartilage growth. The biomaterial is gradually reabsorbed by the body and leaves only new healthy tissue in its place.

Unlike current grafting and repair technologies, these biomaterials do not cause an immune response, so there is no risk of host rejection. Overcoming this cause of chronic pain through the engineering of new materials will no doubt improve the lives of many, especially in the light of potential future applications, such as organ and nerve tissue repair.

Credit: Penn Engineering Magazine, “Crafting Cartilage in the Lab,” by Jessica Stein Diamond.

Interested? Learn more!

Jason Burdick’s Faculty Profile
Polymeric Biomaterials Laboratory

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