Doctors in Switzerland have used cells from nose cartilages of patients to make patches and treat 10 adults, whose knee cartilages were damaged by injuries.
Two years have passed since the transplant, the majority of the patients grew new cartilages in their knees; pain was reduced, knee function was improved as well as the overall quality of life.
According to the study published in the journal Lancet, the radiological assessments underlined variable degrees of defect filling, as well as development of repair tissue very similar in composition to the native cartilage.
"We have developed a new, promising approach to the treatment of articular cartilage injuries," explained lead researcher Ivan Martin, a professor of tissue engineering at the University of Basel.
The articular cartilage is a tissue covering the ends of the knee bones, and injuring it can cause degenerative joint conditions, such as osteoarthritis. A small sample from the cartilage cells from the patients' noses were collected and exposed to growth hormone for 14 days. After this procedure, the cells were placed in collagen for another 14 days.
For this procedure to become standard, a larger number of patients will have to react positively to the mechanical stress of the knee joint. The nose cartilage extracted for this treatment has a diameter similar to a pencil eraser. The tissue is broken town with enzymes and grown on a porous membrane to stimulate formation.
Encouraging these results, however, the scientists admit that it takes more research before applying this technique on a worldwide scale. In order for it to become standard treatment, a larger number of patients will have to be tested to make sure of the general success rates. In this concern, randomized trials will be the methodological solution for future research. The trials will be conducted on a number of 108 patients at four distinct clinical centers.
The results will be analyzed long-term to see the impact of these treatments in the long run and on a scientifically significant number of subjects.
The discovery directly impacts the patients' lifestyle and quality of life, as the smallest articular cartilage injuries can cause large amounts of pain — impairing the joint motion of the patient, with an impact on walking and running.
The standard treatment for knee cartilages was, up until now, collecting cartilage cells from the patients' knees. The procedure involved a period of time during which more cells of the same tissue were artificially grown. However, as the entire formation had to be put back to the patients' knees, the procedure implied two distinct operations.