New material may be able to replace damaged cartilage in joints

September 17, 2012

Topic: knee doctors

New material may be able to replace damaged cartilage in joints

Athletes who consistently place a lot of pressure on their joints may develop problems with their cartilage, which normally cushions the bones that make up a joint. If this specialized tissue deteriorates or becomes damaged, it can lead to great discomfort and pain. To rectify this, researchers from Harvard University have engineered a new material that could potentially be used to replace defective cartilage.

According to a report published in the journal Nature, the experts from Harvard created a gel that is both stretchy and durable called hydrogel, which is mostly composed of water. It's the result of two weaker gels that are combined to make one that has great strength and can stretch 21 times its original length. Moreover, it's self-healing and biocompatible.

This is good news for knee doctors who specialize in knee pain that is caused by cartilage damage in the joints.

Jeong-Yun Sun, the lead author of the study, explained how traditional hydrogels tend to be weak and brittle. In addition, all previous materials have missed a critical component - elasticity.

"But because they are water-based and biocompatible, people would like to use them for some very challenging applications like artificial cartilage or spinal disks," said Sun. "For a gel to work in those settings, it has to be able to stretch and expand under compression and tension without breaking."

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