By: 3 January 2018
Using artificial cartilage tissue for treatment

A Norwegian–Swiss research team has succeeded in growing cartilage tissue cells using algae. Moreover, the new cells can reduce joint inflammation.

Currently there are no medications or treatments available to cure a condition that causes cartilage tissue to wear away in response to the breakdown of its collagen fibres.

SINTEF researcher Øystein Arlov was part of the team that has produced these results. He said: “My aim was to manipulate the structure of alginate (made up of a chain of saccharide molecules), in order to give it new biological properties.”

Arlov and his colleagues at SINTEF and NTNU have now succeeded in modifying the alginate so that it acts as a form of scaffold on which the cells can grow. “The cells’ natural scaffold, called an extracellular matrix, is made up of collagen and special types of carbohydrates, and it is these that break down in people suffering from arthrosis”, explains Arlov.

“In our laboratories we have been using brown seaweeds as our raw material”, says Arlov. “Seaweed alginate can form a gel that is suitable as a cell growth medium because it is similar to the cells’ natural growth environment.”

But alginate cannot stimulate cell growth itself, and this is why the researchers have been trying to make chemical modifications. They achieve this by combining sulphate, allowing the alginates to act as receptors for several key signal molecules that the cells separate out to enable them to “communicate with each other”.

“Using this approach, we’ve succeeded in getting the cartilage cells to survive and divide in vitro – in glass dishes in the lab”, says Arlov. “We freeze–dry the material we produce and send it in powdered form to Switzerland by post.”

When it arrives, the sulphated alginate is dissolved in water and mixed with cells. Calcium is then added to form a gel that keeps the cells in place. The results from Switzerland have been very successful, not least because the cells produced have also demonstrated that they have an anti-inflammatory effect. The next step is to test the new materials and the lab-manufactured cartilage tissue on mice.

Caption: Øystein Arlov with an alginate gel. Credit: Thor Nielsen

Source: Gemini research news

Reference: Anne Kerschenmeyer, Øystein Arlov, and others. “Anti-oxidant and immune-modulatory properties of sulfated alginate derivatives on human chondrocytes and macrophages”. Biomater. Sci., 2017; 5 (9): 1756 DOI: 10.1039/c7bm00341b.