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New hydrogel could be used to treat joint injuries

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Researchers in Japan have developed a new kind of hydrogel that could prove to be a major advance in the treatment of joint and soft tissue injuries.

The gel bonds spontaneously and strongly to fractured bones, supporting the healing process.

According to Hokkaido University, when soft supporting human tissues — including cartilage and ligaments, which are joined firmly to bones — are damaged, they cannot spontaneously repair inside the body. The use of artificial supporting tissues has the potential to significantly ameliorate damage to soft tissues.

Until now, progress in this field has been hampered by the lack of materials that are strong, yet soft and pliant, for adhering to bone, the university explained.

The new study, published in the journal Advanced Materials, builds on the research group´s earlier development of a tough, high-strength network gel, called double-network gel (DN gel), that exhibited excellent performance such as low wear and inductive function for cartilage regeneration. However, the gel´s main component is water, making it difficult for it to bond with other surfaces.

The team overcame this problem by adding hydroxyapatite (HAp), the major inorganic component of bone, to the surface of DN gel by dipping it in calcium solution and phosphate solution. The HAp-coated DN gel (HAp/DN gel) was then transplanted into a defected bone in a rabbit.

After four weeks, the team observed that the gel had bonded to the bone very strongly, while the non-coated gel had not bonded at all.

Electron-microscopic analysis revealed that the newly formed bone component in the defected area had penetrated into the gel surface, and fused to it seamlessly, Hokkaido University reported.

This is the first success in achieving the robust osteointegration of tough hydrogels, and the method is simple and feasible for practical use, the study authors wrote.

“The bonding between HAp/DN gel and bone mimics physiological bonding seen with cartilage, ligament and tendon, causing less stress to the body. We expect that the gel could be used to firmly attach artificial ligament or tendon to bone,” said Jian Ping Gong, one of the lead authors of the paper.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201601030/abstract ;jsessionid=2430B823A4DF2F458043310B3D72FF7C.f03t02