Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Milan and the University Hospital of Basel have developed a microfluidic chip containing cartilage, which can be subjected to mechanical stress. The procedure mimics the conditions of osteoarthritis and could help in developing new treatments.
Osteoarthritis is relatively common among people over 60, with 20% of women and 10% of men suffering its effects at this age. However, perhaps surprisingly, there are no drugs available that can halt or reverse the process, with palliative care or surgery frequently being the only options available.
Experimental models that accurately reflect the mechanical and physiological conditions contributing to osteoarthritis are lacking. This may underlie the failure of researchers to develop drugs that can have a real impact on the condition. At present, most research into osteoarthritis is conducted using cartilage explants, which are induced to produce an inflammatory response through exposure to pro-inflammatory substances.
However, this doesn’t accurately model the mechanical phenomena that occur in osteoarthritis, where mechanical wear on the cartilage in joints leads to long-term degeneration and inflammation. This new microfluidic chip produces mechanical stress on cartilage cultivated within it to more accurately mimic the process that occurs in osteoarthritis.
An actuation layer within the chip allows for compression of the cartilage, and this leads to inflammation, hypertrophy and degeneration, all of which are observed in osteoarthritis. The researchers hope to use the chip to screen for new drugs that can halt or even reverse this process, and which could make a significant difference for patients with osteoarthritis. Future work will also include modeling an entire joint on a chip.
See a video about the research below:
Study in Nature Biomedical Engineering: Hyperphysiological compression of articular cartilage induces an osteoarthritic phenotype in a cartilage-on-a-chip model