Damaged Joints Repaired with Fat

DURHAM, NC-Scientists from Duke University Medical Center have transformed fat cells into cartilage cells, a potential breakthrough for repairing damaged joints.

Damage to cartilage is difficult to heal because there is no blood supply to the area. Often doctors use bone marrow to mimic cartilage in the injured joint. Bone marrow is scarce in the human body, and removing it is painful. Fat, however, is usually found in excess.

A team of researchers turned two ounces of pre-fat into 1 billion cartilage-like cells in two weeks. The fat was taken by liposuction from patients and separated. The connective tissue, known as stromal cells, was removed and mixed with a variety of biochemical cocktails of steroids and growth factors.

The researchers coaxed the cells into cartilage cells. They were grown in a three-dimensional matrix that surgeons may one day be able to implant into damaged joints. The matrix acts like a surgical paste to heal severe injuries.

Human testing is several years away and only young trauma victims would benefit first.

The Duke team's discovery comes after the researchers realized fat cells could be hardened. Using genetic and computer advancements helped with the project. The gene and protein computer programs helped scientists know what job each cell is responsible for, before and after they changed the cell function.

Information from www.usatoday.com