A group of scientists successfully grew cartilage in a laboratory. The development could help younger patients suffering from arthritis in delaying or even eliminating the need for a surgical hip replacement.

The new biotech product is designed for younger arthritis patients who are not old enough to be eligible for surgical hip replacements. This is because these younger patients are expected to outlive the supposed hip replacements in their lifetime.

Lead researcher Bradley Estes highlighted the current gaps in treatment options for arthritis patients, especially among the younger and more active ones below the age of 65.

The current treatment options for these younger patients include analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapies, all of which don't address the illness itself. These then leave patients with inadequate treatment until they are old enough to be eligible for a full hip joint replacement.

In the recent study, researchers worked on a semi-artificial cartilage that will replace the hip joint surface using a three-dimensional (3D) textile technology.

The new product imitates natural cartilage. It is made up of a mixture the patient's own stem cells and plastic material, which has been designed to lower inflammation. Adding a gene into the semi-artificial cartilage and activating it using a drug can deliver anti-inflammatory molecules that can fight an arthritis relapse.

Since the lab-grown cartilage contains the patient's own stem cells, the artificial "scaffolding" will disappear in time and leave only the human tissue.

"We have an implant that can functionally replace the diseased tissue, while also fighting off inflammation that could potentially destroy the new tissue," said Estes, who is from Cytex Therapeutics, the company who is developing the partly artificial cartilage.

The researchers are quite optimistic about the possibilities of the semi-artificial cartilage. However, it has yet to undergo human clinical tests. There are also no existing data about the possible side effects and how much it will cost arthritis patients.

Still, the goal is to develop a semi-artificial cartilage that can be used not just in hips but also in joints and can last up to 15 years.

"Our hope is to prevent, or at least delay, a standard metal and plastic prosthetic joint replacement," said orthopedic surgery professor Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., from Washington University. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 18.

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