Most young people hardly think about their joints. They wonder why adults may groan as they pull themselves up from the couch, wince while climbing steep stairs, or say something along the lines of “oh, my knees!” at random—until, that is, the day inevitably comes when they experience joint pain.
An ache that affects us all
For more than 32 million Americans and millions more around the world, the aches and pains of gradual wear and tear develop into osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage meant to protect the ends of bones wears down over time. A form of osteoarthritis, called post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), is the consequence of injury or damage to the joint and accounts for 10 percent of all osteoarthritis cases. This leads to chronic discomfort and pain that cannot be slowed or stopped by any kind of therapeutic method, due to the inherent difficulties in having drugs reach the affected joints and staying there for a long enough period to suppress the inflammation and promote the regeneration of cartilage.
Saving our joints
A team of scientists from New York University has come up with a new treatment for PTOA: an injectable gel that can stop this form of osteoarthritis from worsening by delivering drugs to damaged joints that keep inflammation under control.
The key ingredient to this solution is a compound that is made up of polypeptides, proteins, and an anti-inflammatory growth factor called Atsttrin. This compound was made into an injectable polymer gel, which, at body temperature, form a porous network that produces the ideal biomechanics environment to promote the regeneration of tissues while slowly releasing the anti-inflammatory growth factors.
So far, this method has been tested through in vitro experiments and then through in vivo experiments on rabbits. The gel successfully protected the rabbits against the onset or progression of PTO in their anterior cruciate ligaments. It’s also worth noting that the gel is based on proteins—not on synthetic materials. This means that it should be well-tolerated by the body and biodegradable within a matter of weeks.
Though this treatment is still in its early stages, the scientists believe that these promising results could provide a blueprint, not just for PTOA treatment but for other conditions involving damaged or inflamed joints.