Scientists have developed a material that can mimic cartilage and potentially encourage it to re-grow.
Cartilage is flexible connective tissue found in places such as in joints and between vertebrae in the spine. Compared to other types of connective tissue it is not easy to repair.
The researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Milano-Bicoccahave developed a bio-glass material that mimics the shock-absorbing and load bearing qualities of real cartilage. It can be formulated to exhibit different properties, and they are now hoping to use it to develop implants for replacing damaged cartilage discs between vertebrae.
They believe it also has the potential to encourage cartilage cells to grow in knees, which has previously not been possible with conventional methods.
The bio-glass consists of silica and a plastic or polymer called polycaprolactone. It displays cartilage-like properties including being flexible, strong, durable and resilient. It can be made in a biodegradable ink form, enabling the researchers to 3D print it into structures that encourage cartilage cells in the knee to form and grow – a process that they have demonstrated in test tubes.