Cartilage is an amazing substance. This smooth, firm material acts as both lubricant and shock absorber to our joints, giving us flexibility while protecting our bones.
However, it has one major drawback: Because it contains no blood vessels to deliver oxygen from red blood cells, its ability to heal itself or generate new cartilage cells is poor. Once it’s damaged, it remains that way—as the many people with osteoarthritis, a disease that breaks down cartilage, have discovered.
- Read more about Osteoarthritis Causes
But there may be new hope for repairing cartilage, thanks to a recent discovery by researchers.1 They found that cartilage from the nasal septum, which separates the nostrils, is unique from cartilage in other areas of the body: It can both grow new cells and adapt to different locations in the body.
In a clinical trial, researchers were able to take cartilage cells from the septum, grow them in the lab, and then place the new cartilage in the knee, replacing damaged cartilage. Experts believe cartilage from the septum can do this because it has a special regenerating gene called HOX.
The ability to create and transplant cartilage could offer relief to the nearly 10 million Americans who have osteoarthritis because of deteriorated cartilage in their knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, hands, and other joints. However, this study is still ongoing and more research is needed before cartilage replacement could become a recommended therapy for those with osteoarthritis.
- Learn about current treatment options for osteoarthritis
Watch this patient-friendly video about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for osteoarthritis.
- "Adult human neural crest–derived cells for articular cartilage repair." Science Translational Medicine. 27 August 2014; Vol. 6, Issue 251, p.251ra119