Duke team builds viable cartilage from induced pluripotent stem cells

Duke Medicine scientists used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from mice to build new cartilage viable enough to treat osteoarthritis and cartilage injuries. They hope to test their process next with human cells.

If successful in people, the achievement, as detailed in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could allow iPSCs to become a reliable material from which to build new cartilage tissue, a vital advance considering joint cartilage is very hard to repair.  Induced pluripotent stem cells are derived from adult cells in areas such as the skin, and they are as versatile as embryonic stem cells--minus the ethical controversy.

Researchers believe that such an ingredient for cartilage repair would be a much better alternative to other tissue engineering techniques under study, because they were able to induce a reliable supply of high-quality iPSCs. And they are confident enough in the results that they will next test their cartilage-growing process with human induced pluripotent stem cells. It could be some time, however, before such a treatment is ready for human testing outright, and stem cells have had mixed success at best in previous clinical trials. And great results in mouse trials aren't always repeatable in people.

Still, researchers say there were able to develop a uniformly differentiated population of cells that produce collagen and help keep cartilage functional. Known as chondrocytes, the scientists grew them from induced pluripotent stem cells derived from adult mouse collagen, after first treating them with a growth medium. What's more, they were able to tailor the cells to display a green fluorescent protein once they were chondrocytes. This allowed them, during the differentiation process, to sort out unwanted cells and keep the green-glowing chondrocyte cells. Scientists were happy with the end result, they said, because the customized induced pluripotent cells were complex enough, they believed, for use in helping to rebuild faulty cartilage.

Duke Medicine includes the Duke University Health System, the Duke University School of Medicine and the Duke University School of Nursing.

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