Researchers from the Faculty of Chemical Technology Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania, are developing an artificial bone, which can be used for treating of the most common joint disease — osteoarthritis. The bifunctional composite imitates the complex osteochondral structure of a joint, i.e., both cartilage and bone tissues.

The bifunctional scaffold, created at KTU aims to compensate defects of both cartilage and bone. (Credit: Kaunas University of Technology)

According to the World Health Organization, around 10 percent of male and 18 percent of female population over 60 are suffering from osteo-arthritis. The onset of the condition is associated with thinning of the cartilage due to age; on average, people over 55 feel pain in four joints. The most common in the world inflammatory bone and cartilage disease, osteo-arthritis, generally affects knee, hip, spine, and tarsus.

While common treatment for osteo-arthritis is pain or anti-inflammatory medication available as pills, syrups, creams, or lotions, KTU chemists are offering a novel approach, i.e., using a bifunctional scaffold as an implant compensating cartilage and bone defects.

A lot of people are suffering from painful joints, and the majority of them have osteoarthritis. To create new composites for solving this problem is especially challenging — cartilage tissue is renewing itself at a very slow rate, and it forms a complex structure together with a bone,” says Simona Miseviciute, an applied chemistry undergraduate, who was conducting the experiment under the supervision of Alisa Palavenienė, PhD.

The bifunctional scaffold aims to compensate defects of both cartilage and bone. Made of several different substances — hydroxyapatite, gelatine, and chitosan — the scaffold imitates the complex osteochondral structure and functionality of the joint and fills the fractures of the two different tissues.

“Development of new scaffolds for regenerative engineering and implementing them in contemporary medicine is of utmost importance — to my knowledge, bifunctional scaffolds imitating complex osteochondral tissue currently are not used in medical practice,” says Miseviĉiūtė.

One of the components of the new composite is gelatine, a cheap product commonly used in culinary and cosmetic industry. This clear, hard, and almost tasteless substance, obtained from animal collagen, is highly biologically compatible, biodegradable, and has low antigenic properties; its modification possibilities are numerous.

The scaffolds were modeled by layering polymer combinations, and the porous structure of a scaffold was achieved by lyophilization, i.e., freeze drying.

Elemental analysis, bioimitational mineralization, degradability, and water absorption of the composite scaffold were among the parameters measured during the experiment. The tests have shown that the samples were highly hydrophilic, which suggests functionality of the scaffold.

“To create bifunctional scaffolds for human bone engineering, interdisciplinary knowledge of chemistry, biology, pharmacy, and anatomy is being used. The new research is aiming to solve most urgent problems of today's aging society. Although these experiments are just a beginning of a great endeavour, we are happy to be keeping pace with global tendencies,” says Palavenienė.

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