New gel-based artificial cartilage could eliminate the need for total knee replacement

Knee pain is one of the most common health problems for many people. This pain stems from the wear and tear of cartilage in a condition called osteoarthritis. In search of pain relief, people often turn to steroid injections, pain relievers, physical therapy, or knee replacements. However, a new development could prove to be a game changer. Researchers from Duke University have created the first gel-based substitute for natural cartilage that is, they say, more durable than the original. The hydrogel material is made of an absorbent material and water, which can be three times more effective against abrasion than natural cartilage.

To develop the material, the team infused thin sheets of cellulose fibers with a polymers named polyvinyl alcohol and gelled. The polymer has a viscous gum-like consistency and has repeating chains molecule.

Cellulose mimics the function of collagen fibers in natural cartilage and provides strength to the gel when it is stretched. Meanwhile, polyvinyl alcohol helps the gel regain its original shape. With these properties, a Jello-like material has been created that has 60 percent country but still gives great power.

Tests show that the material is even harder than natural cartilage. Our cartilage can resist 5,800 pounds of traction and 8,500 pounds of squeeze. However, artificial cartilage was shown to be 26% stronger in tension and 66% more compressive than natural cartilage.

“It’s really off the charts for hydrogel strength,” said Duke University professor Benjamin Wiley. He is the main author of research published year Advanced functional materials.

The research team has develop hydrogel in 2020 but has now been put into practical use as artificial cartilage. Given the enormous strength of cartilage, researchers have faced challenges trying to immobilize it to joints. To do this, they mounted and clamped the hydrogel on a titanium base, which was then pressed and anchored into a hole in the damaged cartilage. This helped them maintain the cartilage in place.

According to Wiley, artificial cartilage is better than a total knee replacement. He said the artificial joint required major surgery to implant and needed to be replaced afterwards. Talking about the new material, he more, “I think this is going to be a significant change in the way people are treated at this stage.” The researchers are now looking forward to clinical trials of the artificial cartilage.

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