Perched on the end of the scientist’s green glove, the tiny oblong-shaped object looks like a small jewel. It is in fact artificially-grown human cartilage, developed from human stem cells in the laboratory for the first time.
Cartilage, which protects the bone ends in joints, does not have blood vessels or nerves and does not heal over time if damaged.
Scientists at Columbia University in New York took cells from adult bone marrow and developed them into cartilage as robust as the natural human tissue.
“We do have technology. We do understand underlying principles. But we are not ready to go into patients. There is a lot of pre-clinical work that will need to be done to make this happen,” said Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, who led the study.
Until now, scientists have made cartilage from young animal cells – but the resulting tissue was often weak.
In the new study stem cells were condensed via a process that imitates how the body produces the tissue naturally.
The research team now plans to test the cartilage grown from stem cells to examine its long-term effects.