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July 29th, 2010
04:53 PM ET

Growing joint with stem cells possible, study says

Scientists have successfully regenerated the limb joints of animals with stem cells, giving hope to arthritis patients who need joints replaced.

In a new study in the Lancet, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, the University of Missouri and Clemson University showed that they had regenerated limb joints of rabbits using the animals' own stem cells.

Here's how it works: Researchers took out the end of the rabbit’s forelimb joint. Using laser scanning, they were able to reconstruct, using a computer, a 3-D image of what the joint looked like. Based on that image, they "printed" a scaffold that is the same shape of the joint, using a machine somewhat akin to a computer printer. The scaffold is made of polymers that have tiny tunnels in them.

Next, the researchers put the scaffold into the place where the joint was. They inserted a special peptide - part of a protein - inside the tunnels of the scaffold that recruits stem cells to regenerate the joint. After growing the joint, the rabbits were able to move again normally, the study said.

This is the first time that limb joints have been regenerated from an animal's own stem cells, not cells that were harvested elsewhere, said study co-author Dr. Jeremy Mao of Columbia University. The animal's ability to function again normally after growing the limb joint has also never been accomplished before.

Of course, this has not been yet shown in humans, and the researchers did not take into account the rehabilitation process that a patient would need to go through to get accustomed to the new joint, Mao said. In rabbits, growing the joint took about three weeks on average - it could take longer in humans.

Currently, people with damaged joints must get a metallic replacement that lasts only 10 to 15 years.

Mao could not predict how many years away this joint replacement technology is for humans, as it depends largely on the regulatory process of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The next step would be to test it on a larger animal, perhaps a goat because goats also get arthritis.


soundoff (202 Responses)
  1. nickeythekidd

    silly wabbit, trix are for kids

    July 30, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Vera McHale

    The key thing here is that it does not need live tissue from warm bodies as is necessary in transplants and happens in abortion. The reduction of crime may be the best benifit from this technology. Someone else has to die for most organ transplants.
    Even in abortion it might someday be poosilbe for a pregant teen to say, "Yes, I want this baby when I am old enough legally to choose for myself." That would be a great social advantage as well as regenerated limbs and hopefully organs.
    Tomorrow does look promissing.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Violet Bunny

    Death-row inmates should be used instead of helpless, innocent animals. This would be one way for them to repay their debt to society.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mike

    Right. Very nice. And, they probably removed those limbs from the rabbits in the first place. That's a problem for anti-social people like me, who like animals more than people, and think there are too damn many of us, in the first place.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Cartman

    Soon I will be able to build my Shakey's Pizza.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. John

    I do not think the reasonable testing on animals should be stopped but, Our society SHOULD allow the testing on human volunteers. If society can condemn someone to die or condemn them to live with horrible pain and disease, why can't they LET those people choose to contribute to society through testing?

    Most of you animal testing proponents are saying the same thing about animals that southern slave owners said about blacks less than 100 years ago. How many more years until you learn your wrong again?

    July 30, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      Errmmmm, uh, do you realize that you just equated blacks with animals? Now, I'm against cruelty of all forms, but in real life it's good to be able to make those fine distinctions.

      On the other hand, I do agree that there should be some sort of path to informed consent for those who would volunteer. The key is the informed consent, and there would be many cases where that would simply not be possible. Also, a number of laws and regulations would have to be altered, repealed, or re-interpreted to make it legally feasible in any case.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • John

      How did I know someone would say that about my post? I guess I should expect some people wouldn't be able to see my point. Not everyone is capable.

      Errrr Ummm... I'll repeat my original post. That is exactly what the Slave owners of the south said about blacks. If humans could be so ignorant to believe that blacks where less than human back then, why can't they be ignorant enough to be wrong about animals? They can be.

      If some people are not capable of informed consent then, are you admitting those people are no better than animals and need to be protected from themselves? Why couldn't the smart people decide to use them for testing? They wouldn't know the difference?

      July 30, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
    • JAW's

      Speaking of not seeing a point. My point was that the way you worded your last sentence could be construed to mean that black people are the same as animals, and that the same approach should be taken toward both groups. I was actually agreeing with the main thrust of your argument, just taking issue with the way you supported it. When you rephrased your argument in your reply to me, it was better written. Indeed, people can and will be wrong about any number of people, animals, things and events. There is seemingly no end to ways in which to be mistaken.

      That issue asside: Animals are indeed not capable of giving informed consent, as is true of some people. It is a difficult and important ethical question, and thus the disagreement and debate: is a nonhuman animal, such as a rabbit, to be given the same treatment under the law as a human? It has never happened, but why not? Let's take it a step further: what about a slug, or a flatfish? They are animals. Do we eliminate scientific research involving them? Where do we place the boundary, to avoid all harm, despite whatever cause? The major argument about blacks (slaveowning ended in the U.S. much more than 100 years ago, by the way) was that they looked different and did not speak proper English, and therefore must be dumb brute animals, or at least not human in the way that whites are. This argument was demonstrably specious even then, and of course was no good excuse for the abuses then practiced. On the other hand, a rabbit will never speak like a human, and flatfish and slugs will never speak at all. They can all feel and bleed, which seems to demand our sympathy and protection. But from what, exactly, and how far?

      I am a vegetarian; have been for decades. From an ethical standpoint, I have limited the harm I do to animals. On the other hand, I do not "admit" that humans "are no better than animals", regardless whether they are capable of informed consent. Better-and-worse distinctions between the groups would imply a good-to-bad scale. From the standpoint of utilitarian ethics, a "bad" being could be human or animal; it would simply be a being who caused more harm than benefit. Leaving aside the question of who would determine harm and benefit, I believe it's fair to say that a human has a great capacity for both doing and receiving both harm and benefit. I would go farther to say that generally this capacity is much greater in a human, even one incapable of giving informed consent, than any rabbit. The distinction becomes much less clear when considering other "higher" primates, such as monkeys, the great cetaceans and so on. Capacity for mentation, longevity of thought and organism, links with a broader society, and capacity to do physical things, for good or ill, I consider good clues to the more general capacity of a being to be of harm or benefit, and this capacity, if anything, may be used to make a distinction between one lifeform and another.

      You may or may not choose to be absolutist and see no distinctions, or a relativist, and see no up-or-down. In the end, they're much the same. You may follow a different code or mode of ethics or morality altogether.

      I know I'm for testing using animals under carefully constructed guidelines (including minimization of suffering and permanent damage, weighed against demonstrated needs), and I'm for testing using humans under carefully constructed guidelines (including all of the above, along with informed consent). I believe that those guidelines should be based upon the same bedrock principles, using utilitarian ethics as well as societal norms as guides, and I believe that the guidelines should by no means be the exact same in application from human to animal, or from an animal with significantly more complex neural and social structures to an animal with significantly less complex neural and social structures.

      Whatever the case, I'm done with you. Your capacity to annoy or enlighten me is at an end.

      July 30, 2010 at 18:45 | Report abuse |
    • John

      Wow!

      That was a lot of words to admit that you merely misinterpreted my statement or at the least didn't think of the possibilities before you responded the first time. Fortunately for me you have provided neither annoyance nor any enlightenment.

      It would have been nice to exchange a few more ideas with you though... It's nice to stay open minded.

      July 30, 2010 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
  7. currious

    This is a fantastic advance. My concern is that it was done by removing a healthy joint in the animal before implanting the regeneration scaffold. When a patient joint as degenerated for years to the point that it needs to be replaced the situation is going to be very different. Especially with rhumatoid joint disease which is caused by an autoimmune condition. If the body was rejecting its own tissue in the first place, is it going to let this regeneration process to take place?

    July 30, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      Very astute observations. Physiologically, the rabbit test was relatively simple and easy. But a good first step, if it truly demonstrated a telling technical advance. Also, there are many people who could benefit from this type of advance, even before the problems you mention are overcome.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      It always takes time..And risk. But moving forward towards, if not a cure, some thing that will help, is good. many people really don't understand how painful joint conditions can be..Aside from the crippling aspects. A person can be relatively young and their lives can be so limited, that they might as well be 105..It's hard to have a mind thats willing and a body that won't..

      July 30, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse |
  8. currious

    To those who think that medical research should not involve animals, when you fall sick and that the only thing that can save your life or at least take away the suffering are you ready to turn it down? Practically all medical treatments havve been developped with animal expeimentation.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RickeyV

    Dear Misinformed people, the ONLY research contested was and is EMBRYONIC stem cell. Get it right because all the dumbing down in Ameica looks like it moved to the left.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      Oh, there's plenty of dumb-ness to go around, but what the hey, it's Friday! Let's party.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
  10. Cartman

    Everyone is missing the point, soon I will have my own Shakey's Pizza!!!

    July 30, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      Congratulations! And thanks for clarifying the issue!

      July 30, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
  11. Hassenpfeffer

    I think they ate the rabbit once it got better.

    July 30, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      If I didn't know any better, I'd SWEAR I was eating CARROTS.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
  12. Annie

    the world would be a better place if we could just accept our mortality

    July 30, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Inkt1

      How many years have you walked with excruciating pain? My entire adolescence was nothing but pain and surgeries and recovering from surgeries. That is difficult to accept. I don't care how many rabbits have to die or what cells need to be used–if there is hope that someday I can walk normally and not need another surgery it will all be worth it.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
  13. Mean

    A rabbit foot is a good-luck charm.

    July 30, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      I once owned rabbits. I missed the chance to cut off their paws and name them all "Lucky". They would've laughed and laughed...

      July 30, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse |
  14. Bella

    People can consent to be willing test subjects in the advancement of science. Their family is also quite capable of suing because they'd rather their family member was alive, rather than a failed experiment. No research group is going to let anyone volunteer before animal trials are done.

    July 30, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      It's also generally illegal to skip animal trials and go straight to humans.

      July 30, 2010 at 15:20 | Report abuse |
  15. S.Carr

    The same religious extremists who blocked this medical technology for years may someday benefit from it. Once again, religion stands in the way of progress.

    July 30, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. TT in Delray Beach

    Some 15 years ago my right shoulder regenerated after the joint was totally calcified due to a bad auto accident several years prior. Being a pretty well skeptical soul, but nevertheless an analytical one, I took sessions with Dr Gene Hanfling (DC) a special in Network Chirpractic as it was called then, but now named Network Spinal Analysis as developed by Dr Donny Epstein. It took 9 months from start, when I couldn't move my right arm with intense pain, to full rotational movement with no pain. I had no injections, no chiropractic physical manipulation, but just the gentle treatment associated with that wellness program.
    One offshoot of the program, apart from a regenerated shoulder, was the ability many years later until the present time, to 'clear' some sublaxtions myself.
    More research definately needs to be done into this alternative medical methodology as I am total proof that joint regeneration can indeed be achieved without resorting to the developments as described in the article.

    July 30, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. mrrusss

    F*** hope. We need to kick this up a notch. Anyone worried about a boogey man in the sky or the rabbit needs to have their knees broken to bring them back to reality, give them some perspective. In this day and age parallels to Gallileo, etc, are beyond a disgrace. I'll help them make embryos for this if they need it. You sickos already have delayed it past me benefitting from it in my old age.

    July 30, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Riely

    Response to "Acaraho"
    the U.S. Goverment can shutdown whoever and whatever funding they want they ARE THE GOVERMENT.
    And sure there might be people still doing the research but if the GOVERMENT outlaws any of it there goes all the funding. Federal funding is also one of the biggest contributers to this kind of research

    July 30, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sky30

    It makes me irate when obnoxious people jump down other peoples throats when they voice any concern about animals. Its not a bad thing to care about other living things. It doesn't mean you don't value the life of humans, it just means you actually have the capacity to see the importance in ALL life. Get a grip people. You are so selfish its disgusting.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mary

    I have been in severe pain for almost 10 years now because of joint problem in my shoulder . Unless a person knows what nerve pain is they can not understand the pain of bone grinding into nerves or why some thing like this is such a wonderful thing to so many.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mangoose

    Don't privatize the technology. Otherwise, people will starting growing their favourite organs.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jamie

    Im betting all of these rednecks volunteering the people who are concerned about the rabbits are probably not the most educated people. Usually people who say such nasty things either lack the appropriate social skills or are just plain stupid. I do wish there were alternatives for animal testing. This does not make me a bleeding heart liberal. I just don't enjoy the thought of living things suffering. That includes people AND animals.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Inkt1

      How many years have you walked with excruciating pain? My entire adolescence was nothing but pain and surgeries and recovering from surgeries. That is difficult to accept. I don't care how many rabbits have to die or what cells need to be used–if there is hope that someday I can walk normally and not need another surgery it will all be worth it

      July 30, 2010 at 16:41 | Report abuse |
    • Mckenna

      Inkt1-Did you even READ her comment? She was commenting on other morons on this site bashing the people who voiced concern over rabbits being maimed. I agree with Jamie. I feel compassion for both humans and animals. I wish there other methods of finding cures for ailments and diseases. I just hate the thought of innocent animals suffering in labs. Yes, they are animals but they feel pain. That alone invokes compassion from me. It doesn't mean I dont feel for people suffering as well.

      July 30, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse |
    • Inkt1

      Wow...I didn't read this comment–I replied to a comment further up and this does make me look pretty dumb. Sorry!!!

      July 30, 2010 at 17:19 | Report abuse |
  23. capnmike

    Years ago people were talking about being able to inject your jaw with a "tooth stem cell" or something like that that would grow you a new tooth...Then the conversation dried up....what happened? Did the ADA kill this?

    July 30, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAW's

      A tooth is actually a very complicated structure, much more so than the hyaline cartilage and adjacent bone surface that were regrown in the study reported on above. It was NOT a full joint regrowth. No ligaments were grown.

      In addition to ligamentous tissue, teeth have nerve tissue, as well as specialized types of bone–enamel, dentin and pulp.
      I don't think it's impossible–just orders of magnitude harder to do. Here's: http://knol.google.com/k/gene-sapp/tooth-regeneration/9ne25rmd2ubv/6# a decent summary of progress on this.

      July 30, 2010 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
  24. ElmerFudd

    Those dwatted wabbits can do just about anything!

    July 30, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Phil

    Awesome! Now I don't feel so bad about that lucky rabbit foot on my key chain.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Smeckell

    So in the future cows and chickens will be like pez dispensers.

    July 30, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Nate

    Thanks to the religious right, these experiments don't have to be done with stem cells harvested from farmed human embryos. Thanks to the religious right the scientists did the hard work to learn how to reprogram a person's regular cells into stem cells, and also found sources of natural stem cells within adult persons. Thanks that there was someone standing up and saying, no, you can't make a profitable business out of farming human embryos for the purpose of terminating them to obtain their stem cells. Sometimes the unethical way may seem easy, but it has consequences to behave in unethical ways.

    July 30, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Wingnut

    Why is it that 95% of the comments are completely inaccurate. Doesn't anybody read a book any more? For that matter – didn't anybody read the article. First of all – the bunny had arthritis – that is how they select the subjects (remember – they are looking into using goats because goats have arthritis too). So – the poor abused bunny is probably doing a lot better than it was to start with. Second – you people need to read up on stem cell research. There is a difference between type of stem cells. President Bush stopped funding for embionic stem cells not other types. He did this mainly because embrionic stem cells were not showing much promise and so many people in the country objected to using tax money to destroy human life. Furthermore, adult stem cell research is the one that has had incredible breakthroughs.... such as this one. Embrionic stem cells are problematic because they can't direct the path of development like they can with adult stem cells. So get over whining about the loss of tax money for an area of research that was not producing anything and was offensive to tax payers.

    July 30, 2010 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Ronald E. Keeney, MD

    Is this a similar technology to that which is also being used to grow other body parts with some success in animals? I am assuming that using one's own stem cells would be much safer than using those cultured and harvested from any other source. I agree that it will be many years, guesstimate 20 minimally, IF (big "if") all goes well, to have anything to offer to humans. The research in larger animals and required safety/toxicity studies will take several years and then the human clinical trials will likely take 10 – 15. The FDA approval process just to do studies in humans will likely take a couple of years, and their review of the completed clinical trials data and approval for marketing could take another 3 or more years after the human studies are done. This is not a realistic time frame for most people with sufficient arthritis to hope that this type of treatment will be available within their lifetimes.

    July 31, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Wyatt Richardson

    being vegeterian helps me a lot in toning down my body fats and staying fit`-'

    October 6, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jussi

    I had half of my femor removed and replaced with metal prothesis, so when ti breaks down I really want this inside my leg so I could keep running.

    November 9, 2012 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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