CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Feb. 19, 2007 - A research team led by Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Virginia Health System has created a synthetic matrix on which the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) can be regenerated effectively for treatment of ACL tears.
This is an important discovery, because the ACL, the stabilizing ligament that connects the thighbone to the legbone, usually does not heal after it is torn during sports or other injuries. The ACL unravels like an unbraided rope when torn, making healing difficult. More than 200,000 people in the United States suffer this rupture each year.
"This is the first tissue-engineered matrix for ACL to demonstrate such substantial neo-ligament formation, in terms of both vascularity and collagen formation," said Dr. Laurencin, Chairman of the UVa Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and leader of the team. "We tested one synthetic matrix with actual ACL cells from our animal model and one without these cells. While both systems encouraged the ingrowth of neo-ligament tissue, matrices with seeded cells performed particularly well in this study."
Dr. Laurencin concluded that the ACL replacement with ACL cells had a robust functional tissue outcome in the rabbits that received this matrix.
Tissue engineering doesn't get as much attention as stem cell research. But we need tissue engineering advances as much as we need stem cell research advances.
The team grew ligament tissue after first weaving together strands of biodegradable polyester using a machine originally designed for textile production. This material, called polylactide, naturally dissolves in the body over time.
Every industry that develops technology for manipulating small pieces of matter potentially could produce technology also useful for biological manipulations. We see this with gene chips and microfluidic devices developed as spin-offs of the computer semiconductor industry. But we also see scientists using ink jet printers to deposit cells for tissue engineering.
Laurencin's team seeded the woven polylactide structure with cells taken from rabbits' anterior cruciate ligaments and cultured them in a dish for two days. Finally, they surgically replaced whole anterior cruciate ligaments in another group of rabbits with the polylactide scaffold material, attaching it to the joint in the same way as a normal ligament.
Twenty-four hours later, the rabbits could already bear their own weight on their knees, and showed fairly normal mobility.
We need the ability to build and grow replacement parts for our bodies. With these parts most chronic, painful, and debilitating diseases will become curabel. Eventually full body rejuvenation will become possible.
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