London: In a breakthrough, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have found that cells taken from the nasal septum are able to adapt to the environment of the knee joint and can repair articular cartilage defects.
Cartilage lesions in joints often appear in older people as a result of degenerative processes.
"The findings have opened up the possibility to investigate an innovative clinical treatment of cartilage damage," said Ivan Martin, a professor for tissue engineering.
The nasal cartilage cells' ability to self-renew and adapt to the joint environment is associated with the expression of so-called HOX genes.
In an ongoing clinical study, researchers took small biopsies (6 millimetres in diameter) from the nasal septum from seven of 25 patients below age 55 and then isolated the cartilage cells.
They cultured and multiplied the cells and then applied them to a scaffold in order to engineer a cartilage graft the size of 30 x 40 millimetres.
A few weeks later, they removed the damaged cartilage tissue of the patients' knees and replaced it with the engineered and tailored tissue from the nose.
Cartilage cells from the nasal septum have a distinct capacity to generate a new cartilage tissue after their expansion in culture.
"We found that nasal cartilage cells can replace cartilage cells in joints," added Marcel Jakob, the head of traumatology at the University Hospital of Basel.
"While the primary target of the ongoing clinical study is to confirm the safety and feasibility of cartilage grafts engineered from nasal cells, the clinical effectiveness assessed until now is highly promising," researchers concluded.
The study appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine.