Joint pain is subject of Johns Hopkins research led by ophthalmologist

July 25, 2012
Ophthalmology Times Staff Reports

A team of tissue engineers led by an ophthalmologist have found a way to turn stem cells into cartilage and to help people who have joint pain.

Baltimore-A team of tissue engineers led by an ophthalmologist have found a way to turn stem cells into cartilage and say their research holds promise for devising new techniques to help the millions of people who have joint pain.

Reporting online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Johns Hopkins investigators say they have produced an important component of cartilage in both laboratory and animal models.

“We’re building a temporary template that mimics the cartilage cell’s natural environment and taking advantage of nature’s signals to repair cartilage damage [biologically],” said Jennifer Elisseeff, PhD, the Jules Stein Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the Translational Tissue Engineering Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In the laboratory, the researchers created a nanofiber-based network using a process called electrospinning, which entails shooting a polymer stream onto a charged platform. Then they added chondroitin sulfate, a compound commonly found in many joint supplements, to serve as a growth trigger. After characterizing the fibers, they made several different scaffolds from spun polymer or spun polymer plus chondroitin. They then used goat-bone-marrow-derived stem cells and seeded them in various scaffolds to see how stem cells responded to the material.

The cells with the scaffolding developed into more voluminous, cartilage-like tissue compared with the cells without scaffolding.

“The nanofibers provided a platform where a larger volume of tissue could be produced,” Dr. Elisseeff said.

The investigators then implanted the nanofiber scaffolds into damaged cartilage in the knees of rats and found that using the scaffolds improved tissue development and repair as measured by the production of collagen, a component of cartilage.

“Creating a nanofiber network that enables us to distribute cells [more equally] and mirror [more closely] the actual cartilage extracellular environment are important advances in our work and in the field. These results are very promising,” Dr. Elisseeff said.

For more articles in this issue of Ophthalmology Times eReport, click here.