Trials start on use of cultivated cartilage to replace joints

Clinical trials on using cultivated cartilage to replace damaged joints have begun at five hospitals, sources told Kyodo News on Monday.

The trials are being conducted by Aichi Prefecture-based Japan Tissue Engineering Co., which specializes in regenerative medicine. The hospitals include Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Shimane University Hospital.

It is the first time a private company has conducted such clinical trials in Japan. The company plans to obtain approval for the technique from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry around 2007.

The trials involve a technique developed by Mitsuo Ochi, a professor in the department of orthopedic surgery in the graduate school of biomedical sciences at Hiroshima University, and applied by the university in a clinical setting.

The technique is aimed at curing patients who have damaged their elbow or knee joints through accidents, sports activities or diseases such as arthritis, by implanting cultivated cartilage into their joints for regeneration.

During the trials, doctors will take a sample of the patient’s healthy cartilage, cut it up and cultivate it in collagen for one month. They will implant the cultivated cartilage into the damaged joint and cover it with the patient’s periosteum, the fibrous sheath that covers bones.

The area surrounding the cultivated cartilage is expected to regain its original hardness within two years, the sources said.

Ochi has already used the technique on 80 people taking part in a clinical study launched in 1996 and obtained good results.

He said that he believes “about 90 percent” of those tested are satisfied with the process.

The ministry gave the go-ahead for the clinical trials early this year, according to the sources.