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New Cartilage Regeneration Technology

HKU biomedical engineers are developing leading cartilage regeneration technology to grow cartilage tissues using the patient's own adult stem cells for replacement of damaged cartilage.

Cartilage functions to protect the underlying bones in a joint from rubbing against each other. Cartilage injuries and the associated chronic pain are very common. They may be caused by osteoarthritis, degeneration, trauma and sports injuries.

About 40% of adults over 65 years old have some form of cartilage damage and may require cartilage repairs. Cartilage cannot heal on its own once injured. In the worst case, total knee replacement by an artificial joint is required.

A team of biomedical engineers at HKU led by Professor Barbara P. Chan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has developed a new cartilage regeneration technology to grow cartilage tissues out of cells taken from a patient’s body. The cells, in particular stem cells extracted from a patient’s bone marrow, can be grown into cartilage tissues of the shape and size fit for cartilage repairs and replacements.

This tissue-engineered cartilage-bone plug mimics the structural organization of native cartilage bone tissues. The use of these regenerative complex tissue plugs will allow patients to have cartilage repairs without the need to transplant healthy cartilage from other parts of the joint.

The research team has established a start-up, Living Tissues Company Limited, at the Hong Kong Science Park to take this technology to its next stage of development and translate it into real applications. YourCartilageTM is the 4th generation technology of Living Tissues, with 10 patents and 4 technology platforms.

At present, osteochondral autograft transplantation is recognized as the clinical gold standard for repairing cartilage. It involves harvesting a graft from a healthy part of the joint, and transplanting this autograft to replace the damaged cartilage. However, this procedure leaves the autograft donor sites injured that may lead to abnormalities including chronic pain and degeneration.

YourCartilageTM does not require sacrifice of a patient’s healthy cartilage. The tissue-engineered cartilage-bone plug is grown outside the patient’s body. The replacement parts generated by our new technology are fully biocompatible, so patients could be benefited from faster healing.

Clinical trials to apply this new technology in treating sports injuries and trauma will start soon. The ultimate goal is to develop this technology into the dominant method for cartilage repair and an early intervention procedure for osteoarthritis, which may prevent degeneration of the joint.

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