Weaving a cartilage scaffold

Duke University Medical Center researchers have woven a three-dimensional fabric scaffold that could improve the ability of surgeons to repair damaged joints with the patient’s own stem cells.

According to the researchers, current therapies to repair cartilage damage are not effective. The only bioengineering approach to such joint repair involves removing cartilage cells from patients and then growing them in a laboratory to form new cartilage.

However, it can take several months to grow a piece of cartilage large enough to be implanted back into the patient, and this laboratory-grown cartilage is not as durable as native cartilage.

In laboratory tests, the fabric scaffold that the researchers created had the same mechanical properties as native cartilage. In the near future, surgeons could be able to impregnate custom-designed scaffolds with cartilage-forming stem cells and chemicals that stimulate their growth and then implant them into patients during a single procedure.

Most machines that produce fabrics weave one set of fibres that are oriented perpendicularly to another set of fibres. The researchers developed a machine that adds a third set of fibres, creating a 3D product. Since the scaffold is a woven material, there are tiny spaces where cartilage cells can nestle and grow.