Artificial Cartilage: Stronger than Earlier

Lab-grown tissues has a very promising future in regenerative medicine as it could provide new treatments for deep wounds and damaged joints, including auricular cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found in areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, rib cage, ear, nose, bronchial tubes and inter-vertebral discs. It is a hard (not as hard as bone) material that caps the ends of bones and allows joints to work smoothly. The major component of cartilage, collagen, provides strength and flexibility to the majority of our tissues, including ligaments, tendons, skin and bones. It is produced by the cells and made up of long fibres that can be cross-linked together.

A group of biomedical engineers from UC Davis have been exploring ways to toughen up engineered cartilage and keep natural tissues strong outside the body. The problem with engineered tissue is that the mechanical properties are far from those of native tissue. Researchers have been maintaining native cartilage in the lab and culturing cartilage cells, or chondrocytes, to produce engineered cartilage. Initially the cells produce an immature matrix and these neo-tissues are weak. However they become tougher with the maturation process

Knee joints are normally low in oxygen, so the researchers looked at the effect of depriving native or engineered cartilage of oxygen.  The present study demonstrates that low oxygen led to more cross-linking and stronger material. They also identified an enzyme called lysyl oxidase, which is triggered by low oxygen levels, promoted cross-linking and thereby producing a stronger material.

Though native cartilages are used as transplants to treat serious joint problems currently, it is well known that this method is not sufficient as a long-term clinical solution. However the engineered cartilage can be used as a transplant in these cases but these tissues are yet to be tested or approved for human use.

The consequences of this study are tremendous with respect to tissue grafts used in surgery, as well as new tissues fabricated using the principles of tissue engineering. Grafts such as cadaveric cartilage, tendons or ligaments, lose their mechanical characteristics with storage. Therefore these tissues can now be treated with the processes elaborated in this study to make them stronger and fully functional.



Developing functional musculoskeletal tissues through hypoxia and lysyl oxidase-induced collagen cross-linking. Eleftherios A. MakrisDonald J. ResponteNikolaos K. PaschosJerry C. Hu, and Kyriacos A. Athanasiou.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.doi: 10.1073/pnas.1414271111


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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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