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One experimental technology currently being studied as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis is tissue engineering. Osteoarthritis research scientists are studying three types of tissue engineering: cartilage cell replacement, stem cell transplantation, and gene therapy. Cartilage cell replacement involves removing cartilage cells from the person's joint and then cloning new cells. Gene therapy and stem cell transplantation could also help treat osteoarthritis if researchers can continue to improve these approaches.

An Overview of Tissue Engineering and Osteoarthritis

Tissue engineering is a technology that involves removing cells from a healthy part of the body and placing them in an area of diseased or damaged tissue in order to improve certain bodily functions. Currently, it is used to treat small traumatic injuries or defects in cartilage. However, if researchers can continue to improve this approach, it could eventually help treat osteoarthritis.
  
There are numerous types of tissue engineering, and osteoarthritis clinical trials are currently looking at three specific types:
 
  • Cartilage cell replacement
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Gene therapy.
     
Cartilage cell replacement and stem cell transplantation are the two most common techniques being studied.
 
Cartilage Cell Replacement
In this procedure, osteoarthritis research scientists remove cartilage cells from the person's joint and then clone or grow new cells using tissue culture and other laboratory techniques. They then inject the newly grown cells into the joint. People who undergo cartilage cell replacement have fewer symptoms of osteoarthritis. Actual cartilage repair is limited, however.
 
Stem Cell Transplantation
Stem cells are primitive cells that can transform into other kinds of cells, such as muscle or bone cells. They are usually taken from bone marrow. In the future, researchers hope to insert stem cells into cartilage, where the cells will make new cartilage. If successful, this process could be used to repair damaged cartilage and may eliminate the need for surgical joint replacements with metal or plastics (see Hip Replacement or Knee Replacement).
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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