A group of researchers from POSTECH, Dongguk University Medical Center, and Nature Gluetech in Korea have developed a novel method for treating damaged cartilage. Cartilage is an important tissue that protects bones and facilitates smooth joint movement. Unfortunately, it has limited intrinsic healing capacity, so stem cell transplantation has emerged as a promising therapeutic approach. However, the effectiveness of this technique is limited by the rapid disappearance of transplanted stem cells from the smooth cartilage surface and the fluidic environment around the cartilage.
To address this limitation, the researchers developed a new treatment strategy that involves the use of a viscous immiscible liquid capable of facilitating the transplantation of stem cells into damaged tissue. The team combined adhesive protein derived from mussels with high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, which exhibit opposing charges and thus facilitate electrostatic interactions between them. They then engineered a highly viscous liquid bioadhesive that does not disintegrate or swell in water, resulting in an adhesive material that can securely encapsulate stem cells and facilitate their firm attachment to the transplantation site.
The team demonstrated that stem cells encapsulated within the adhesive liquid were retained in situ when transplanted into defective cartilage in a rabbit model evaluation. The prolonged retention of transplanted stem cells within damaged cartilage facilitated cartilage regeneration and enhanced the therapeutic effects of stem cell transplantation. An additional benefit of the adhesive liquid developed by the team is that it is a natural adhesive that does not require any additional physical or chemical processes. The findings of this research have been published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.
The leader of the research team, Professor Hyung Joon Cha, emphasized the potential of mussel adhesion protein as an effective biomaterial for enhancing the therapeutic effects of stem cell transplantation in damaged cartilage. He also noted that the liquid bioadhesive, which can be injected and used in conjunction with an arthroscope, has promising applications for treating damaged cartilage.
The technology for mussel adhesion protein has been transferred to Nature Gluetech Co., Ltd. for further development, and a clinical trial for the stem cell adhesive CartiFix, developed in this study for arthritis treatment, is expected to begin in the near future.