Cartilage grown from patients' noses used to repair their knees


August 29, 2014

Nasal septum cartilage cells can easily be coaxed into reproducing, providing a patient with their own source of replacement joint cartilage (Photo: Shutterstock)

Nasal septum cartilage cells can easily be coaxed into reproducing, providing a patient with their own source of replacement joint cartilage (Photo: Shutterstock)

Depending on the part of the body and the nature of the injury, cartilage either doesn’t grow back at all, or does so very slowly. That’s why joint injuries often take a long time to heal, to the point that scientists are looking into using things like hydrogels and 3D printers to help speed the process. Now, however, researchers from Switzerland’s University of Basel are reporting that cartilage cells harvested from a patient’s own nose can be used to grow replacement cartilage for their knee.

In the ongoing study, 6 mm-wide plugs of cartilage are being taken from test subjects’ nasal septum (the bit inside the nose, that separates the nostrils). Cells are extracted from that tissue, multiplied in the lab, and then applied to a piece of biocompatible scaffolding-like material.

Once the lab-grown cells have colonized that material, it’s formed into a 30 x 40-mm graft. That graft is then used to replace damaged articular cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of the bones, where they meet to form joints), which has been surgically removed from one of the patient’s knees. So far, the results are described as "very promising," with the nose cartilage adapting well to its new environment.

Nasal septum cartilage cells differ from articular cartilage cells, in that they don’t express certain homeobox (HOX) genes. What this means in practical terms is that the nasal cells reproduce much more readily, so growing cartilage from them is a lot easier. The cells possess this quality throughout a person’s lifetime, so the treatment should work even on the elderly, who are the ones most likely to require it as their joints deteriorate. That said, it could conceivably be used on anyone suffering from cartilage injuries or defects.

The research is being led by professors Ivan Martin and Marcel Jakob. A paper on it was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Source: University of Basel

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I wonder if pinnal cartilage will work. Like noses, ears continue to grow through adulthood, as evidenced by many elderly whose features are more prominent than when they were younger.


Human trials of this will likely come long before human trials of olfactory nerve cells to repair spinal cord injuries.

When that had a 100% success rate in accident paralyzed dogs, restoring partial to full hind leg function in the test group, so it was then tried on the control group, again with 100% positive results - WTH haven't human volunteers been sought out? (Paralysis cures would put a major crimp in the wheelchair and other assist device, therapy and treatment industries!)

If I was paralyzed and knew about that dog experiment I'd be wanting it tried on me!

Gregg Eshelman

I wound up with a fused knee 30 years ago following many years of bone-on-bone wear once the cartilage was worn through. While cartilage research may not have the cache` of spinal cord injury research, the results might have eliminated some of the 15+ surgeries and years of excruciating pain for many like myself.

Noel K Frothingham

Does the genetic difference in the cartilage make it less durable under pressure?

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