New Treatments for Osteoarthritis Includes Spaghetti and Noodles

Samuel Stupp (photo by Jrmantei)

Prof. Samual Stupp discussed 'noodle gels' and 'spaghetti highways' (photo by Jrmantei)

I am always on the lookout for new treatments for osteoarthritis and this one shows more promise than most. This was reported on Eurekalert about Samuel I. Stupp, Ph.D who  presented a paper to the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week about “noodle gels” and “spaghetti highways”.

No it isn’t April 1 but with eminent scientists like Stupp using terms like this you might think so!

In his lecture Stupp explained about a new branch of medicine called ‘Regenerative Medicine’. Eurealert reported that Stupp explained

“Regenerative medicine is an emerging field that combines chemistry, biology and engineering. It focuses on the regeneration of tissues and organs for the human body, to repair or replace those damaged through illness, injury, aging or birth defects. Those tissues range from cartilage in joints damaged by arthritis to heart muscle scarred by a heart attack and nerves severed in auto accidents.”

One type of spaghetti-like filament developed by Stupp’s team is a nanostructure of small bits of protein that glue themselves together spontaneously. These nanofilaments are so small that more than 50,000 would fit across the width of a human hair, and they can serve as smart scaffolds for many uses. For example, Stupp attached to these fibers signalling substances that mimic a powerful substance called VEGF that can promote the formation of new blood vessels. The VEGF-mimic caused new blood vessels to form in mice (stand-ins for humans) with blood vessel damage.

“When VEGF itself was used in clinical trials on humans, it didn’t work, despite a lot of laboratory research that suggested otherwise,” said Stupp. “The problem was that VEGF was quickly broken down in the body. The nanofilament scaffold, however, lasts in the body for weeks, which allows the VEGF-mimic more time to grow vessels.” Eventually, the nanofilaments break down and disappear, leaving only the new blood vessels behind.”

There has obvious benefits as a new treatment for osteoarthritis as it can be used to regenerate the articular cartilage that has degenerated. In very simplistic terms Stupp and his team have got long lines of protein molecules to stick to one another in long bit of string or ‘spaghetti’ as he said. These strings then stick together forming a scaffold which a chemical can be placed that makes blood vessels grow.

The reason cartilage and nerves don’t regenerate is because they have no blood supply so this will be a HUGE step forward to make cartilage grow. Essentially new blood supply = new cartilage.

The other big step forward are the ‘noodle highways’.

These noodle gels are a potential solution to a long-standing problem in regenerative medicine. It involves delivering proteins, biological signals and stem cells in a specific direction to target precisely the damaged parts of the heart, brain, spinal cord or other organs. Noodle gels can align stem cells in the linear fashion needed for proper repair of damaged tissue. Those strings could also serve as “spaghetti highways” to guide cells in our bodies to a specific location where repair is needed. Alternatively, the noodle gels containing aligned filaments could deliver signalling proteins and other beneficial substances to diseased locales.

This second type of ‘pasta’ is, to me, even more exciting as it benefits so many people. These ‘spaghetti highways’ are really ways of targeting very specific area of the body which for osteoarthritis the bit of cartilage that is worn.

Delivery is a major problem in many areas of pharmaceuticals. With the administration of most drugs is that the whole body ends up being targeted rather than only the cells that need targeting which often leads to side effects. (Think about the effect of chemo on someone with cancer as the chemo goes to the whole body not just to the tumor).

If Stupp has found a way to deliver drugs (chemicals) to specific target cells this will have many benefits for, not only Regenerative medicine, but for many other branches of medicine as well. Less of the drug will be put into the body (always a good thing) and also only it will stop almost all side effects which usually occur because non targeted parts of the body are affected by a drug.

Stem cells have been heralded as a cure for osteoarthritis. However it is not being as successful as was hoped because of delivering the stem cells to the actual area of degeneration. Stem cells, by their nature can become any sort of cell in the body so if they end up in the wrong place they will simply grow where they are sown.

For people with osteoarthritis these ‘spaghetti highways’ can be used to make stem cell therapy work much better but not only delivering the stem cells to the worn area of cartilage but also make the stem cells lie down in rows forming the replacement fibres of cartilage. Clever huh?

All in all this ‘pasta’ technology is not only one of the most exciting new treatments for osteoarthritis I have heard about in a long time but one of the most significant advances in drug treatment. Roll on the day I say but what about you? Is this all a bit ‘Captain Kirk’ for you? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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