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Study Show Stem Cells Could Rebuild Joints

July 29, 2010

Scientists have successfully used stem cells to rebuild bones and cartilage in rabbits, providing hope that the procedure might someday be used to naturally rebuild damaged joints in humans.

The results of the study, which was completed by a team of researchers from Columbia University in New York, Clemson University in South Carolina and the University of Missouri, were published Thursday in the online journal The Lancet.

They found that just a single compound–a growth factor known as beta-3–was needed in order for the rabbits’ systems to rebuild joint tissue, according to Reuters Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox.

“Our findings suggest that the entire articular surface of the synovial joint can regenerate without cell transplantation,” the scientists write in the Interpretation section of their report.

“Regeneration of complex tissues is probable by homing of endogenous cells, as exemplified by stratified avascular cartilage and vascularised bone. Whether cell homing acts as an adjunctive or alternative approach of cell delivery for regeneration of tissues with different organizational complexity warrants further investigation,” they add.

“This is the first time an entire joint surface was regenerated with return of functions including weight bearing and locomotion,” Columbia professor and lead researcher Jeremy Mao said in a statement, according to AFP reports. Mao also noted that their findings “may ultimately lead to clinical applications”¦ In patients who need the knee, shoulder, hip or finger joints regenerated, the rabbit model provides a proof of principle.”

“They replicated a rabbit’s leg joint using a laser to calibrate the structure. They infused this porous bone scaffold” with beta-3, Fox said.

“Ten rabbits fitted with the enriched new joint were hopping around within three to four weeks. Only a few of the 10 rabbits fitted with an unenriched scaffold could move normally, and three rabbits whose joint was surgically damaged and not repaired limped permanently,” she added.

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