Pig tissue could lead to arthritis treatment

MU researchers are seeking FDA approval for clinical trials.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:51 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

A procedure developed by MU researchers could prevent the onset of a form of arthritis and may soon begin its first clinical trials on humans.

A research team headed by James Cook, an MU professor of veterinary medicine and surgery, has created a procedure that can be used to regrow the meniscus in the knee.

The meniscus is a c-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a cushion between the ends of two bones that meet at the joint. When damaged or torn, the meniscus usually doesn’t heal on its own.

Keiichi Kuroki, an MU postdoctoral fellow who worked with Cook, said the most common treatment for meniscus damage — removing the damaged tissue without making any effort to replace it — can cause further knee problems.

“We know this causes osteoarthritis because of the lack of cushion,” Kuroki said.

Osteoarthritis is an inflammation of the joint caused by chronic degeneration of cartilage.

In surgeries done on dogs, Cook’s team implanted a scaffold made of pig intestine onto the damaged meniscus to direct tissue growth. A scaffold is a platform for cells to grow on.

“We show the tissue where it needs to grow,” Cook said in a press release from MU News Bureau.

The release said Cook and his colleagues were able, on average, to regrow 90 percent of the meniscus.

Cook said pig intestine was used to make the scaffold because there is little danger of the body rejecting pig tissue.

“This tissue is readily available, easy to manipulate,” Cook said. “It is user-friendly for the surgeon and encourages site-specific tissue formation in the location you put it in the body.”

Pig intestine scaffolds are also used in repairing rotator cuff injuries, applying skin grafts and in bladder reconstruction.

Cook has researched how to regrow meniscus since 1997. After an initial study was funded by MU, the rest of the research has been funded by DePuy Orthopaedics.

Along with Cook and Kuroki, MU veterinary medicine and surgery professor James Tomlinson and clinical instructor Derek Fox worked on the research.

If the procedure receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration, clinical trials on humans should start in the summer, Cook said. About 20 patients are set to receive the procedure in Indianapolis and Memphis, Tenn.

“Hopefully, there’ll be larger clinical trials in 2005 and 2006, then widespread use in 2007 and 2008,” Cook said.

In the release, Cook said he thinks that the procedure will not only be effective in treating new injuries but also in treating older patients who have suffered from knee damage for years.

B. Sonny Bal, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at University Hospital, said that in the future, surgeons might be able to repair knee damage by growing human cartilage outside of the body, then implanting it into the damaged area.

He said research on this is already under way at MU and the University of Missouri-Rolla.

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