o The Frog Blog: Pupil Work - Cartilage Transplantation by Chris Faerber

Monday, 1 March 2010

Pupil Work - Cartilage Transplantation by Chris Faerber

The Biology Prize takes later this week. This is one of the essays shortlisted for presentation on Friday. It refers to cartilage transplantation and is written by Chris Faerber, Form VI.


Cartilage is a stiff yet flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the nose, ear and knee. It is mainly composed of specialised cells called chondrozytes (or chondrocytes). There are three distinct varieties of cartilage: elastic cartilage, fibro cartilage and hyaline cartilage. In the following synopsis I would like to look at the latter in detail.

A very common example of hyaline cartilage can be found in the knee. Due to the fact that it is not as hard and rigid as bone but stiffer and less flexible than muscle, it suits the knee perfectly as it needs to withstand the high pressure caused by the femur and tibia moving on it. The poor blood supply, together with the stress applied by the bones, promotes degenerative processes such as osteoarthrosis. It involves the degeneration of the cartilage present in the knee joint, eventually leading to exposure and damage of the bones. The patient increasingly experiences pain upon weight bearing, including walking and standing. Osteoarthrosis affects about 8 million people in the UK and 27 million in the United States and is one of the leading causes of chronic disability and the resultant inability to work.

Until scientists in Gothenburg (Sweden) first successfully transplanted artificially grown chondrozytes in the late 1990s, it was impossible to treat this disease as chondrozytes only repaired themselves to a minute extend.

The new treatment technique, called Autologous Chondrozyte Transplantation (ACT), aims at reconstructing the hyaline cartilage. It involves the extraction of healthy cartilage tissue. In an in vitro process the cells are then placed in a culture medium and proliferated. After two to three weeks these cells are implanted at defective places. Through this method 90% of the joint congruence as well as the load capacity can be restored, improving the patient's life significantly.

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