Electric KNEE implants could be the answer for millions of arthritis sufferers after scientists find a way to regrow cartilage with the help of a tiny electrical current
Electric knee implants could be the answer for millions of arthritis patients as scientists have been able to regrow cartilage with the help of electrical currents.
Bioengineers in Connecticut have developed a tiny mesh implant, about half a millimetre thick, which generates tiny electrical currents when it feels pressure – a property known as piezoelectricity.
For arthritis patients with the implant, regular joint movement would cause the implant to generate an electrical field that encourages cells to colonise it and grow into new cartilage.
Arthritis is a common and painful disease caused by damage to a person’s joints. Normally pads of cartilage cushion those spots, but injuries or age can wear it away.
As cartilage deteriorates, bone begins to hit bone, and everyday activities like walking can cause terrible agony, so growth of new cartilage is key to making the condition less painful.
In experiments, the scientists successfully regrew cartilage in a rabbit’s knee, which could pave the way for healing joints for humans with arthritis.
The research has been led by Thanh Nguyen, a bioengineer at the University of Connecticut, who says he is cautious making the step up to experiments in humans.
‘This is a fascinating result, but we need to test this in a larger animal, one with a size and weight closer to a human,’ Nguyen said.
If the technology were to pass clinical trials, it could ease the pain for people with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting nearly 9 million people.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.
Currently, the best treatments replace the damaged cartilage with a healthy piece taken from elsewhere in the body, sometimes from a donor.
But if this healthy cartilage is your own, transplanting it could injure the place it was taken from. Also, if it’s from someone else, your immune system is likely to reject it.
Previously, to alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis, some researchers have tried amplifying chemical growth factors to induce the body to grow cartilage on its own.
Other attempts have relied on a bioengineered scaffold to give the body a template for the fresh tissue.
But neither of these approaches work, even in combination, according to Nguyen.