How To Grow A New Joint Inside Your Body

Say you have arthritis, as 80 million Americans do. Your hip has degenerated to the point that you have trouble walking, or standing for too long, or even sitting for too long.

Your doctor gives you a choice. She can replace your hip with a ball-and-socket joint made of metal and plastic, or she can try a new procedure that lets your body regrow a new hip joint from your own cells.

Since my colleague Vivian Distler blogged about regenerative medicine last year, amazing strides have been made. Now you don’t need to grow a body part outside a body and transplant it into a body, you cangrow it directly in the body itself.

This is exactly what a group of researchers has done, and they published their finding last week in the journal Lancet.

The body was a rabbit, and the body part was a forelimb joint.

Here’s what they did. First, a 3-D model of the joint was constructed. The model was used to build a bioscaffold – a structure in the exact shape of the joint, made of biodegradable materials that the body will accept. Next, the bioscaffold was infused with a protein called Transforming Growth Factor Beta 3 (TGFB3), whose job is to recruit the body’s own cells to the site of the joint to start building on top of the scaffold. The infused bioscaffolds were transplanted into 10 rabbits, and the researchers waited. 5-8 weeks later, the rabbits had fully regrown their hip joints and were walking around normally.

This is the first example I’ve seen of in vivo or in-body regeneration, with no injection of stem cells or external cells of any kind. The rabbit’s body did all the work, with the help of a simple scaffold.

Even better would be a system that could just repair an existing joint, rather than having to remove and regrow. Barring any major hip-breaking accidents on my part, this kind of non-invasive option should be readily available by the time I’m old enough to need a new hip.

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