A study by scientists at The Forsyth Institute reveals a new way to generate cartilage cells. The techniques, which involve modifying genes, could have significant implications in regenerative medicine for repairing cartilage injuries and degeneration.
The science and other stuff to know
Cartilage injuries and degeneration cause chronic pains in joints such as knees, shoulders, and hips. These disorders are caused by conditions like arthritis and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which affects over 350 million people worldwide, according to Global RA Network. Thankfully, an exciting medical breakthrough in tissue regeneration offers potential relief to patients.
In a paper published in Science Advances, scientists at The Forsyth Institute suggest a new approach for making cartilage cells, including a new understanding of a multifaced protein called β-catenin. This protein is involved in regulating and coordinating cell-cell adhesion (the mechanism of how cells interact with each other based on molecule reactions) and gene transcription.
The study’s first author, Dr. Maruyama, explained: “The goal of this study was to figure out how to regenerate cartilage. We wanted to determine how to control cell fate, to cause the somatic cell to become cartilage instead of bone.”
The team tested what would happen if β-catenin’s signaling capacity was only partially compromised. They discovered that the cells were unable to develop into bone or cartilage.
Following the experiment, the researchers concluded that while Wnt signaling is a factor in bone creation, it’s insufficient for cartilage production.
The study team devised an alternative action of β-catenin, GATA 3, responsible for switching skeletal cell fate. This gene regulator activates the expression of genes unique to cartilage in cells.
“GATA3 binds to the genome sequences required for the reprogramming,” second author Dr. Wei Hsu said. “GATA3 is a game changer because we can use it to potentially change any somatic cell to become a cartilage-forming cell.”
The finding in this study opens new avenues in genome research for scientists to explore. It’s also an exciting breakthrough in tissue regeneration research that could have tremendous implications for creating new treatments for patients with cartilage injuries and degeneration.
Currently, there are no treatments that can regenerate cartilage.
In a similar study, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine figured out another way to regrow articular cartilage by causing slight injury to the joint tissue, then using chemical signals to steer the growth of skeletal stem cells as the injuries heal. The researchers need more experimentation to devise a cartilage regeneration solution. Unfortunately, we are far from human trials for a successful treatment, but there are promising studies.