Innovation That Matters

The cell in this image is being compressed with a very small glass pipette, to release the drug that combats inflammation | Photo source Washington University School of Medicine

Cartilage acts as delivery system for anti-inflammatory drugs

Health & Wellbeing

Researchers have developed a way to genetically engineered cartilage to deliver an anti-inflammatory drug in response to activity

Spotted: Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed a way for the body to deliver anti-inflammatory drugs to treat osteoarthritis itself. They have altered genes in cartilage cells so that the cells respond to movement and weight-bearing by producing a drug to combat inflammation.

Like the touch sensor on an iPad, cartilage cells sense when stress is being applied.  The team engineered the cells to release an anti-inflammatory drug called anakinra in response to this stress. Anakinra is a recombinant and slightly modified version of the human interleukin 1 receptor antagonist protein. While the inflammation associated with the excessive stress of arthritis normally causes cartilage to break down, the drug blocks cartilage damage.

Studies on the use of Anakinra to treat osteoarthritis have shown that it is ineffective when injected into a joint just one time. But the researchers believe that the drug would be more effective if it were released in arthritic joints over longer periods, while mechanical loading is actually occurring. In effect, the drug would be released whenever it is needed. This should also help avoid side effects associated with long-term, non-targeted delivery of strong anti-inflammatory drugs, such as stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue and hair loss.

Senior investigator Farshid Guilak, PhD, explained that, “We altered snippets of DNA in the cells to tell them to do something different than normal when they sense a load. That is, to make an arthritis-fighting drug.” Lara Pferdehirt, a biomedical engineer and graduate research assistant in Guilak’s lab, added that,“It’s kind of like turning on a light…With a light, you flip a switch, and a lightbulb turns on. But in this case, the switch is the mechanical loading of a joint, and the bulb is the anti-inflammatory drug.”

Technological innovation is shaping many aspects of universal healthcare. Springwise has covered advancements in diverse areas of medicine, from the use of genetically engineered tomatoes to grow medicine for the treatment of Parkinson’s, to the development of an app to support people with coeliac disease.

Written By: Lisa Magloff

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