MIT engineers design new injectable material that may someday help heal osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis that causes severe joint paint, affects millions of people worldwide.  Some drug treatments can help alleviate the pain, but there are no treatments that can reverse or slow the cartilage breakdown that is associated with the disease.

But MIT engineers have designed a new material that could help improve the treatment options available for osteoarthritis. The engineers have designed a material that can penetrate deep directly into the cartilage; delivering the drugs that could potentially heal damaged tissues.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Cartilage, a smooth connective tissue that protects joints, does not have any blood vessels, making it difficult for drugs to travel to the deeper layers of chondrocytes; the cells that produce and maintain cartilage.

“This is a way to get directly to the cells that are experiencing the damage, and introduce different kinds of therapeutics that might change their behavior,” says Paula Hammond, head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the study.

In the study, the researchers showed that delivering an experimental drug called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) with this new material prevented cartilage breakdown much more effectively than injecting the drug into the joint on its own.

Image via Pixabay

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that can be caused by a traumatic injury such as tearing a ligament. It can also result from gradual wearing down of cartilage as people age. A smooth connective tissue that protects the joints, cartilage is produced by cells called chondrocytes but is not easily replaced once it is damaged.

Previous studies have shown that IGF-1 can help regenerate cartilage in animals. However, many osteoarthritis drugs that showed promise in animal studies have not performed well in clinical trials.