There is considerable progress in the field of stem cell research and its use in the production of cartilage tissue. As some of you will know the process of regenerating lost cartilage is a very slow one. This is a pity because Cartilage are some of the hardest working tissues in the body. They are present in the joints and as you know your joints are responsible for a lot of the load bearing responsibilities in the body. Because your joints are involved in almost all lifting and movement, over time the cartilage will wear away due to normal everyday wear and tear. The result is considerable discomfort, pain and suffering that can lead to disability.
People who are involved in sports place a lot of pressure and added work on their joints and in turn their cartilage. Any injury that occurs in the joints can triple the normal wear and tear on cartilage tissue. This overworked and underappreciated area of the body is just now getting its full recognition and appreciation because researchers have realized just how difficult it is to engineer cartilage tissue due to its unique and complex molecular structure. In comparison to the more difficult to engineer tissues, cartilage tissue is much simple. It has much less blood vessel networks and less variances and is more uniform in its structure.
It remains a challenge to use a patient’s cell form and fully integrate the blood vessels found in their tissues, skin, muscle and cartilage much less to proceed onto the more complex internal organs. The research is at the stage where it will soon allow for donor organs to be matched specifically to their intended recipients. So far the testing has been limited to pigs, mice and rats, but is a far way off from being created from cells. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for donors and decellularization is just the first step.
In terms of medical research four years is definitely not a long time and while there has not been many bounds and leaps in terms of the progress made, there has been progress, advances and many lessons learnt. Cartilage is the natural and obvious choice for pioneering tissue engineering due to its slowness in regenerating and repairing itself. Cartilage wears away over the years due to trauma, and age and can lead to conditions such as osteoarthritis. Initially the basic, simple structure of cartilage tissue made it seem relatively simple to reproduce as a starting point. It has proven to be much more difficult.
Autologous chondrocyte is a promising advance in the field of tissue engineering and specifically cartilage repair. However, changes in phenotype during the process leads to an inferior biomechanical result. In addition, limitations in the capacity of the original donor sites greatly restricts the numbers of chondrocytes available as well as the lifespan of the donor site (donor site morbidity). These are all major drawbacks and limitations in the use and effectiveness of autologous chondrocytes.
The more effective choice at this point in time would seem to be mesenchymal stem cells or MSC. They represent less of a challenge as they can easily be harvested from donors with relative ease. The process of harvesting does not require surgery and is therefore much less destructive and invasive compared to other techniques used to harvest cartilage. Many studies and clinical trials have been completed and some are still in progress for the regeneration of cartilage. Their aim is to ultimately repair and treat degenerative conditions such as hip, knee and ankle damage, cartilage defects and conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Much work has been done and a lot of ground covered, still the work and research continues in the ever expanding field of stem cell research.