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‘Chemical photographs’ could help scientists create better engineered cartilage

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UK scientists are using an imaging technique called Raman spectroscopy in an effort to improve engineered cartilage.

Researchers at Imperial College London have been growing cartilage-like material using cells seeded onto scaffolds made from a biologically compatible material. This cartilage-like tissue grown in the lab could potentially replace damaged cartilage in the body.

As part of their work, the research team turned to Raman spectroscopy, a form of biochemical analysis using the properties of light, to compare how close their engineered cartilage is to natural articular cartilage. The aim is to make design improvements to enable the engineered tissue to act more like real cartilage, and make implants more functional for patients in the future.

Dr Jean-Philippe St-Pierre, co-author of the study from the Department of Materials at Imperial College London, explained: “Using Raman spectroscopy is like taking a complex chemical photo of a sample. It means we can analyse a sample and get a deep understanding of its makeup. This approach has great potential in regenerative medicine because it means we can learn more about real tissue like cartilage and compare it to our engineered samples. Ultimately, we want to create the perfect conditions in the lab to enable us to engineer more life-like implants.”

Articular cartilage is the smooth, white tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. It has previously been classified as having three distinct zones, but the study — published in the journal ACS Central Science — revealed that it is made up of at least six different layers.

The researchers mapped the distribution throughout the layers of the three main components in human cartilage: water, a group of sugars called glycosaminoglycan, and collagen. They were also able to image how the collagen fibres were orientated, which is important for understanding cartilage’s mechanical properties, and they compared the natural and engineered cartilage samples.

Next, the team will use Raman spectroscopy to systematically evaluate the conditions in the lab that can influence the growth of articular cartilage. By doing so, they hope to identify the settings that improve conditions for engineering tissue so that it more accurately mimics the structure of real cartilage.

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_15-11-2016-13-49-16

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-11/acs-bcm111116.php

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acscentsci.6b00222