DESLEY BLANCH: Plans to fast track the development of a cartilage repair gel will be welcomed by those footballers, cricketers, runners and other athletes who are living with debilitating sports injuries.
(football match cheers)
DESLEY BLANCH: After the cheers of the crowd die down, many a former athlete lives in pain following the glory of their sporting achievements. And for those left with damaged knees, hope is on the horizon.
It comes in the form of a team of tissue engineers and biochemists at the University of Sydney. They have joined forces to develop a new biomaterial that can be used to repair damaged cartilage and in particular the knee.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR FARIBA DEHGHANI : This material is produced by a combination of a natural polymer which is produced in our body. We call it elastin and give the skin and other organs elasticity, plus a polymer that we synthesise in our laboratory. This polymer can improve the mechanical property of tropelastin or elastin and we can control the biodegradability of this polymer. We can also tune the mechanical property to be able to develop cartilage for different parts of the body.
DESLEY BLANCH : That’s chief investigator Associate Professor Fariba Dehghani from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies at the University of Sydney. They’re creating an injectable hybrid-hydrogel that mimics chondrocyte cells found in cartilage in the knee.
FARIBA DEHGHANI : We can use different types of cells, for example chondrocyte, stem cells or fibroblasts or genetically modified cells, but chondrocyte is native and exist in the cartilage, and we hope that by addition of the chondrocytes we will be able to regenerate the cartilage and the required material for repair of the cartilage, such as collagen type 2 and glycosaminoglycan.
DESLEY BLANCH: Tissue engineering is an emerging science consists of growing living cells into 3D scaffolds to form whole tissues capable of normal functions.
FARIBA DEHGHANI : We're trying to optimise the composition of that polymer to control the injectability. What I mean by injectability is controlling the viscosity, setting time and the temperature that the solution can be used, because we should have a viscosity that the patient doesn't feel the pain when we inject it, and also concern about the setting temperature we hope that the polymer mixture with tropoelastin can have the strong mechanical property at body temperature.
DESLEY BLANCH: By using their tissue engineering techniques the scientists believe these sports injuries could be permanently repaired.
FARIBA DEHGHANI : This material when it is injected to the body should degrade versus time and our engineering approach will assist us to control all these properties.
DESLEY BLANCH: Professor Dehghani says that by tuning the properties of their polymer, it will be possible to rebuild other cartilage in other parts of the human body which are affected by ageing or disease.
FARIBA DEHGHANI : This new biomaterial that we developed can not only be used for sporting injuries, damage to the cartilage in the knee, but also we are able to change the mechanical property, degradation, also the size. Rather than using only injectable, we are able to produce a larger size of scaffold, 3D scaffold, that can be used for nose or ears injuries as well.
DESLEY BLANCH: The group is intent on generating a new family of hybrid biomaterials, so what is their point of difference from other injectable gels, some out of Harvard and Bradford universities which have been used to repair different organs?
FARIBA DEHGHANI : What we claim is we are able to design a polymer that can be used to tune the mechanical property of the hydrogel we produce.
It can be used for different organs, not just one organ. All the components of polymer, the biomaterial that we develop, biopolymer that we use are FDA approved. They are non-toxic, and we don't need to use a UV light or any other system for production of the hydrogel.
It's actually set in our body temperature, at 37 degrees and this is quite unique because in approaches that are used by Harvard, they need to use UV light to produce that hydrogel, and it is not possible to use the UV light in every part of the body.
DESLEY BLANCH: With the support of a 2012 Australian Research Council grant their goal is for clinical trials in three years and with all going well; the cartilage repair gel would be available to the public in another three years.