Are Genetically Engineered Cells the Future of Osteoarthritis Treatment?

The growing elderly demographic has been a considerable market driver within the orthopedic biomaterials market, the incidence of osteoarthritis and other forms of degenerative diseases have also been on the rise. In an effort to find a cure for such diseases researchers have been investigating the abilities of smart biomaterials. 

Smart biomaterials autonomously respond to biological cues and initiate a therapeutic or restorative response. Mechano-therapeutics, in particular, are a rapidly growing class of smart biomaterials that use mechanical changes within diseased tissues to elicit a therapeutic response and improve the defective tissue. Current technologies rely on external protein drug delivery or ultrasound stimulation to deliver drugs. However, creating systems that can operate internally at the cellular-scale and that offer long-term feedback-controlled synthesis of biologic drugs could provide a completely new approach for therapeutic drug delivery.

Genetically Engineered Cartilage Cells

Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease that occurs when the cartilage that protects the ends of bones starts to degrade and wear down. There are currently no available disease-modifying drugs, so patients with this disease often receive total joint replacement procedures because of the incapacitating pain. 

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSM) have been working on genetically engineered cartilage cells to release an anti-inflammatory drug when they undergo mechanical stress, such as when a knee bends or has to lift heavy loads. The cartilage cells that form the new cartilage tissue were engineered to release ‘interleukin-1 receptor antagonist’ (also known as Anakinra). It is a drug known to reduce inflammation in arthritic joints. 

Impact within Mechano-Responsive Tissue Constructs

WUSM have tested their genetically engineered cells in mechano-responsive tissue constructs. In an inflammatory environment, the constructs with engineered cells were able to maintain the integrity of the tissues and the matrix in it, while constructs with regular cartilage cells had significant degradation of the tissues.

“By engineering these cells into a functional tissue construct, this system provides the potential to repair or resurface damaged cartilage while providing site-specific, mechanically induced anti-cytokine therapy against inflammation” – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Cartilage tissue engineering is a promising strategy to resurface damaged and diseased cartilage with an engineered cartilage tissue. Yet, an ongoing challenge in the field is developing engineered cartilage constructs that withstand both the high mechanical loads placed on the articular joint and the chronic inflammation present within an osteoarthritic joint. Therefore, bioartificial tissue that can synthesize biologic drugs in response to both inflammation or mechanical loading, either independently or concurrently, could greatly enhance the potential of an engineered tissue replacement.

Orthobiologics Market Size and Forecast

Overall, the US orthopedic cartilage repair market was valued at over $167 million in 2020. This is expected to increase over the next few years at an annual growth of 12% reaching just over $272 million by 2025. Surgeons repairing cartilage damage are constantly awaiting new technological developments in order to improve the procedures and ultimately allowing them to offer their services with a higher competitive advantage. 

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Via: Science Advances 

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