The progressive disease osteoarthritis is one of the primary causes of physical disability in the world and affects an estimated eight million people in Britain alone. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear to joints, usually the hips, knees and wrists, where the cartilage that cushions bone movement has broken down and become soft. Bones then come into contact and the friction produced causes joints to swell and become extremely painful. At present there are no permanent cures and sufferers have to rely on anti-inflammatory painkillers to relieve discomfort. Currently 40% of people over the age of 70 will experience osteoarthritis to some degree. After puberty cartilage usually takes 10-12 years to fully develop and is susceptible to degradation during this period. Due to an increased participation in sports, orthopaedic surgeries have seen a higher number of younger patients in need of surgery for cartilage damage.
Research led by scientists at Swansea University has shown that damaged cartilage can be repaired. Diseased, osteoarthritic cartilage can be potentially regenerated using a combination of specific growth factor proteins, fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF-2) and transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1). The combination of these factors stimulates stem cell growth in immature cartilage to make it ridged and allows for maturation at an accelerated rate. Initial testing has proven extremely promising to date. With this technology the whole maturation process takes up to three weeks rather than years and significantly repairs the smooth surface area of articular cartilage, restoring it to optimum health.
This technology has applications in both the veterinarian and human market. In addition to osteoarthritis treatment, this technology is particularly important to the plastic surgery industry for cartilage graphs or implants, or for the production of realistic replacement cartilage ears and nose which have been matured in moulds before inserting them into a patient. Joint regeneration in fingers would also benefit greatly from this technology.
Swansea University has filed a patent application for this technology 1300054.2