COLUMBIA, MO. — University of Missouri researchers have developed an in vitro joint model that replaces laboratory animals, cuts costs and improves safety when studying human and canine arthritis.
After three years, the model – which uses small sections of canine joint capsule and cartilage — now effectively mimics arthritic joints.
"We currently use it every day for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and treatment testing, as well as for trying to better understand osteoarthritis and joint injury," says James Cook, DVM, PhD and director of UM's Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory (COL). He and a team of six others worked on the project "to study arthritis more efficiently and effectively in a standardized, controlled and validated manner, while minimizing the need for use of research animals," Cook says.
After studying in vitro culture while pursuing his PhD, Cook developed the joint capsule model — the most realistic recreation of an arthritic joint to date, he says — using tissue typically from donor canines. Human, equine, feline and bovine models also have been studied.
Aside from saving the costs of purchasing, housing and caring for laboratory animals, the method also provides a safer option when studying drug therapies, he says.
"Because no live animals are involved at this stage, we can evaluate all aspects of safety, side effects and detrimental effects to the joint, and the worst-case scenario is we discard tissues. So we know before anything is ever tested in vivo what we need to worry about, or if it is not safe at all," Cook says.
The development's impact to human medicine may be even greater than to veterinary medicine, he says, "since most of the work in arthritis is focused on the human side first."
Overall, the in vitro model is the next steppingstone to a cure, Cook believes. "It provides a cost-effective and efficient way to discover new mechanisms of arthritis' development and progression, new diagnostics and new treatments. We will save so much time, space, money and lives."