2 February 2012
In the UK, around 10,000 people a year suffer with cartilage damage significant enough to require treatment. The treatment for cartilage damage currently includes supportive braces, physiotherapy, painkillers and possibly surgical intervention. However, due to a lack of blood supply to cartilage, it can take a considerable amount of time to heal and regain normal function (ref 1).
Recent studies have examined the use of therapeutic ultrasound, involving high frequency mechanical vibrations, as a potential tool for repairing cartilage damage. The healing properties of this method have been beneficial in treating bone fractures, repairing them significantly faster than normal. Ultrasound has therefore recently been investigated as a possible treatment for the enhanced cartilage regeneration.
Unacceptable animal studies have been carried out in order to prove the efficacy of ultrasound therapy as a healing method. These have included dropping a 500g weight, from a height of 35cm, onto the legs of rats, themselves weighing only 300-500g. In another study this time to assess the effects of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound on cartilage repair, 106 rabbits had their legs damaged. The animals underwent surgery involving the opening up of both their hind limbs and the drilling of the femurs, through cartilage and bone, creating a 3.2mm diameter and 5mm deep defect.
Drs Vehid Salih and Jamie Harle, of the Eastman Dental Institute and the University of Liverpool respectively, have completed their LDF funded project, which aimed to advance knowledge regarding the healing effects of ultrasound on damaged cartilage without the unethical and unnecessary use of animals in these painful experiments.
The innovative, multi-disciplinary project established a three dimensional cell culture model for cartilage, free from animal-derived products, in which to investigate the therapeutic effects of ultrasound. By combining the expertise of the scientists in biomaterial science, cell biology and ultrasound technology, they optimised the tissue construct component of the project while perfecting the ultrasound equipment for the study.
This project has established an alternative to animal experiments for investigating the effects of ultrasound therapy on cartilage. The model was designed to be simple to manufacture, with good biocompatibility and mechanical integrity. The early work conducted in this project was presented at an International Biomaterials conference in September 2009 (see New Science, Issue 1).
Looking to the future, and encouraging young scientists to adopt humane methods of research, Dr Harle is also a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network (STEMNET) ambassador for the North West of England. In this role, Dr. Harle discussed the LDF work in the context of the replacement of animals with school and college students interested in careers in science, medicine or related subjects. In addition, the postgraduate students who assisted with the project using non-animal derived products, will go on to carry out PhD and MSc work which it is expected to include these materials and methods, helping to establish a new generation of humane scientists.
1. http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/Preview.aspx?site=Cartilage-damage&print=634248319918443869&JScript=1 - accessed 08/11/10