University of Missouri researchers lab-grown cartilage molded into joint replacements

Jul 01, 2009

COLUMBIA, MO. — Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Veterinary Medicine are growing cartilage in a lab that can be molded into permanent joint replacements for dogs, and eventually humans.

Dr. James Cook, director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at Missouri's School of Veterinary Medicine, already has used the cartilage in knee caps for dogs with early success and narrow applications, he says.

He's back in the lab and looking to expand to other body parts, such as knee, shoulder and hip replacements.

Cook began growing cartilage in test tubes nearly 15 years ago while working on his PhD, with the intention of bene-fiting both animals and humans.

As a child, Cook watched his grandfather endure six knee-replacement surgeries and wanted to do something that would make the healing process less painful and more permanent. As a veterinarian, he says his first love and obligation is always to his animal patients. This technology incorporates both.

Cook could try out new applications as soon as an appropriate canine candidate comes along.

Because the replacement joints are living tissue, as opposed to metal or plastic, Cook's technique allows for the joints to heal with the rest of the body.

Other researchers are working on growing blood vessels, skin and trying to grow a functioning heart, but Cook seems to be the only one growing cartilage.

This technology could be used on a wide-scale basis in animals in five to seven years and in humans in seven to 10 years, where it could have many additional applications, Cook says.