Story at a glance

  • Researchers have been working on taking cartilage cells from the nose and developing it into tissue that can be implanted elsewhere.
  • After success in animals, two people received this treatment using cartilage cells from their own noses.
  • The patients reported decreased pain and increased quality of life.

For many reasons and at different stages in their lives, people may experience pain in their knees due to lack or loss of cartilage tissue in the joints. Researchers are working on a way to use cartilage cells from the nose to repair the knee joint.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the Department of Biomedicine of the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel are taking cartilage cells from the nasal septum in the nose and cultivating it to use elsewhere in the body as a treatment. “The main target advantage is the effective regeneration of the cartilage, as opposed to substitution by a foreign body part,” says Ivan Martin at the Department of Biomedicine of the University of Basel to New Scientist.

Unlike the cartilage tissue in the joints, these cartilage cells originate from precursor cells and have a distinct regenerative and adaptive capacity, or plasticity, says Martin in a press release. “Tissue grown from nasal cartilage cells seems also to retain these special properties.”


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After the nasal cartilage cells are grown into a layer, the researchers implant it surgically in the knee joint. The researchers tested this in animals and also in two patients in their 30s with severe knee osteoarthritis.

Using the patients’ own nasal cartilage, the patients reported less pain and increased quality of life. The researchers took MRI images of one of the patient’s knees and found that the bones were further apart than before, suggesting that the joint was recovering. 

Martin says in an interview with STAT that 15 years of research has led up to being able to develop this three-dimensional engineered cartilage tissue to be used in humans. They have been following up for two years with the two patients, who would have needed a knee replacement otherwise.

Martin tells STAT they are unsure what will happen in the long term, but are hopeful for combination therapy. “Our results have enabled us to lay the biological foundation for a therapy, and we are cautiously optimistic,” says Martin in the press release.


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Published on Sep 02, 2021