By Kyle Phong
Published 2:59 EST, Sun December 19th, 2021
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, is when the cartilage within our joints wears down and causes the bones to change. Osteoarthritis progressively worsens and is known to cause pain, swelling, and stiffness, even hindering our ability to do everyday tasks. This disease affects over 30 million adults in the US and is common among elders. There are no definitive causes of osteoarthritis, but certain factors can put individuals at higher risk for the disease. For instance, athletes who put repetitive stress on a joint or those diagnosed with obesity have extra weight which adds stress on their joints both are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. Genetically, having relatives with osteoarthritis puts individuals at a higher risk. Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are ways to alleviate its pain. For example, anti-inflammatory medication can reduce the swelling of the joints and regular exercise or physical therapy helps to strengthen our muscles and improve flexibility. If the osteoarthritis becomes too severe, the last resort is to implant prosthetics. The diagram below displays a comparison between a healthy knee joint and one with arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is an extremely common disease, especially among the elderly, but we have not discovered a cure for the disease. At the Department of Biomedicine in the University of Basel, Switzerland, a research team thought of using cartilage tissue from the nasal septum, a structure that holds the formation of the nose. For this study, the Swiss scientists aim to use this tissue to repair the damage to the cartilage in the knee joints, specifically known as patellofemoral osteoarthritis.
The Swiss team sampled tissue from their patients’ nasal septum, known for its regenerative and adaptive properties. Next, they cultivated the cells in a laboratory until they grew into a layer of cartilage. The researchers then proceeded to implant this cartilage into the knee joint through surgery. However, the main concern was that the inflammation of the joint would degenerate the new cartilage, just as it has done with the original cartilage. To test for this, they modeled the inflammation in a laboratory and later attempted the surgery with sheep and mice.
The Swiss researchers were pleased to see that the nasal cartilage was a healthy replacement for the degenerated knee joint that even stopped the inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. Upon further testing, the team found why: the cartilage layer was able to repress the molecular signaling pathway that caused inflammation. After successful trials with the animals, they decided to proceed to test on two human patients, suffering from severe knee osteoarthritis, who would have received unicondylar knee arthroplasty or prosthetic knee joints.
Post-surgery, the two patients reported that their pain significantly decreased and their quality of life improved, enabling them to perform everyday tasks with more ease. Additionally, they conducted an MRI scan on one of the patients, but the other was unable to travel due to the pandemic’s restrictions. This MRI scan displayed a clear increase in spacing between the two bones in the knee joint, indicating the regeneration of the joint cartilage.
Despite these great successes, the team is hopeful, yet still cautious. The main focus now is to expand this method’s reach to treat a broader scope of patients with varying types of osteoarthritis such as in the hands, lower back, and hips. Currently, they are conducting more in-depth trials with the aid of the University Hospital of Basel as a sponsor.
Kyle Phong, Youth Medical Journal 2021
Science, “Engineered nasal cartilage for the repair of osteoarthritic knee cartilage defects”, 1 September 2021
News Medical Life Sciences, “Cultured cartilage cells from the nasal septum could help relieve osteoarthritis in the knee”, 1 September 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Osteoarthritis (OA)”, 27 July 2021
OrthoInfo, “Arthritis of the Knee”