A Gel Stronger Than Natural Cartilage May Soon Be used to Treat Joint Disorders

April 2, 2023

Summary: Joint disorders are common. Osteoarthritis of larger joints like knee joints can be quite debilitating. These disorders are characterized by a loss of joint cartilage. Treating these disorders is quite challenging, with many requiring joint replacement surgery. However, now researchers have hydrogel that can be used instead of joint replacement. This hydrogel is three times sturdier than natural joint cartilage. Unlike joint replacement surgery, it can mimic the cushiony properties of the joint cartilage.

Joint disorders are pretty common and are among the leading causes of chronic pain and disability. Moreover, disorders or larger weight-bearing joints like knee joints are more common. Such issues cause much pain and limit the movement of patients. Though joint disorders are widely prevalent, they are challenging to treat. There has been little progress in finding an effective chronic pain treatment for these conditions. Most patients would use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and various joint supplements to manage the pain. However, these treatments often fail to prevent the progress of the condition.

Most joint disorders occur due to osteoarthritis. It is a disease of wear and tear. In this condition, soft cartilage present in the joint is worn out. Tears in the cartilage result in the bones coming in direct contact with each other, and rubbing between the bones causes pain and joint deformity.  Though many health supplements claim to nourish joints and even promote cartilage growth, none seem to have any significant benefit.

Hence, as the condition progresses, managing it with medications becomes difficult, and joint replacement remains the only option. However, joint replacement has many downsides. It is a highly invasive procedure. Moreover, joints are made of hard materials or metals and lack many properties of the natural joint. Thus, artificial joints are stiff, and they cause harm to the adjoining structures. However, now it looks like researchers have found material that can replace joint cartilage. A material that has shock-absorbing and gliding properties similar to natural cartilage but a material that is much stronger than natural cartilage. 

Researchers at Sparta Biomedical have developed a gel that is three times stronger than natural cartilage. Researchers are already planning to start clinical trials with the gel in 2023. It is a non-toxic hydrogel, and researchers have already tested it extensively for strength. For example, in a lab study, hydrogel demonstrated a lower level of wear and tear when tested for tensile strength in 100,000 cycles.

Therefore, researchers propose that hydrogel implants may help overcome joint pain and might be a better option than joint replacement surgery. Moreover, such hydrogel implants might be used in the early stages of osteoarthritis when significant changes in the bony structures have not occurred. Implanting hydrogel early will prevent further joint deformation.

Of course, there is certain kind of challenges in implanting the gel. For example, there is a risk that it may not hold well and may slip. Fortunately, researchers have found a solution to the problem. They can fix the gel to a titanium plate that can be screwed. Such kind of titanium plates can stay in their place even better than natural joint cartilage.

Researchers have already done many in-Vivo studies confirming that this kind of gel can be superior to joint replacement. In addition, it is less prone to wear and tear and can hold well when cemented using a titanium plate.  Unlike artificial joints made of metals or polymers, this hydrogel can mimic the smooth and cushiony nature of true cartilage, thus providing much better joint movement. In addition, the material is quite safe for use in humans and does not cause allergic reactions or inflammation.

Doctors say that this gel can have many other applications. For example, in the case of back pain, loss of joint cartilage is to be blamed in most cases. However, researchers are now developing an injectable gel that may help fill cracks and tears in damaged discs. Hence, it could be a minimally invasive way of restoring disc integrity. It is our mission to bring real hope and transformational change to patients who would otherwise be consigned to a lifetime of medications, doctor’s visits, and suffering. We expose misaligned incentives and return the power of health to the individual. We believe empowered individuals change their communities. We use a combination of lifestyle intervention, medication management, and emerging scientific research to help our patients.  When you are ready or have questions, reach out. Medical Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the content provided is not direct medical advice for patient care, but is provided for thoughtful discussion.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP