One of the leading causes of chronic pain is osteoarthritis. What often happens is the cartilage in your knee wears away, or sometimes is removed by surgery. The older you get the more at risk you are, but knee osteoarthritis can develop in younger people, especially those who have injuries. Athletes and weekend warriors in particular are at risk.
If the pain from the osteoarthritis gets severe enough, it can lead to a knee replacement. Other than that, there’s no cure for osteoarthritis.
Knowing this and how many of our National Pain Report readers tell us they suffer from osteoarthritis made us take notice of news out of the University of Iowa this week.
An orthopedics research team there is working on a solution that it hopes will result in a minimally invasive, practical and inexpensive approach for repairing knee cartilage and preventing osteoarthritis.
It’s an injectable bioactive hydrogel that it believes can repair cartilage damage, regenerate stronger cartilage and delay the onset of osteoarthritis.
Don’t call your doctor about it yet. It’s still in the research phase and probably five years away from being tried in humans. But it’s interesting enough that it’s featured in the May issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology.
The research team is led by James Martin PhD., who is an assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Iowa.
Martin’s team had previously identified precursor cells within normal cartilage that can mature into new cartilage tissue. This was considered news because of it’s been long held that cartilage doesn’t repair itself.
The team also identified what is called a molecular signaling factor that attracts these precursor cells out of the surrounding healthy tissue into the damaged area – developing into new, normal cartilage.
Well, almost normal. The new tissue is not as mechanically strong as normal cartilage but Dr. Martin and graduate student Yin Yu think that the type of stress that is exerted during exercise and physical therapy might improve that.
To translate this approach into a therapy that be used in people, the team now needs to include the growth factor in the gel in a way that allows a stepwise release of the signaling factor followed by the growth factor.
They are working with pharmacy experts to engineer this into a gel.
They aren’t just researchers – they also are thinking about how to get the product approved and onto the market.
“When we are ready to commercialize this product, we already know all the components are FDA approved for human use which will accelerate the approval process,” said Yu.
Osteoarthritis affects 27 million people in the U.S. with the knee being the most common place it develops.