This Invention Could Be a Lifesaver for People With Arthritis

A nanoparticle injection has shown great promise in a recent MIT study.


Arthritis knee pain

(iMoved Studio /

Researchers at MIT may have found a way to prevent cartilage breakdown in people who have suffered a traumatic injury and that is great news for athletes and anyone who has an active lifestyle.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, causes joint pain and it affects millions of people worldwide. This progressive disease can be caused by an injury like tearing a ligament or can be caused by the gradual wearing down of cartilage as people age.

While there is no cure, there are treatments to alleviate pain and inflammation. Unfortunately, there haven't been any major breakthroughs that can reverse or slow the cartilage breakdown that is associated with this disease. But that is exactly what the MIT researchers set out to do and they may have already succeeded.

MIT researchers recently designed a new material that could deliver drugs directly to damaged cartilage and potentially repair the damaged tissue. This could greatly improve treatment options for people with Osteoarthritis.

“This is a way to get directly to the cells that are experiencing the damage and introduce different kinds of therapeutics that might change their behavior,” Paula Hammond, head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the study that appeared in Science Translational Medicine told MIT News.

The study was conducted on rats using the new experimental drug IGF-1. Previous studies with this material showed that it could help regenerate cartilage in animals but it did not perform well in clinical trials. The MIT team believed that the drugs never reached the deep layers of the joints where it would do the most good. That’s why the MIT researchers were dedicated to finding a new way to deliver the drug is a way that could do exactly that.

The sphere-shaped molecules they came up with have positive charges tip at the end of its branches that adhered to the cartilage that is negatively charged. “We found an optimal charge range so that the material can both bind the tissue and unbind for further diffusion, and not be so strong that it just gets stuck at the surface,” Brett Geiger, an MIT graduate student and the lead author of the paper said.

The study showed that when the researchers injected the nanoparticles into the knee joints of rats, it lasted 10 times longer than IGF-1 injected on its own. The rat’s knee joints also showed a reduction in inflammation and the formation of bone spurs, two of the common effects of the disease.

The drug concentration had a therapeutic effect that lasted 30 days in the test rodents. The MIT researchers believe that if this also holds true for humans in clinical trials, an effective treatment for Osteoarthritis can be administered to patients on a monthly or biweekly basis. This would be a big improvement over current treatments.

The research was funded by the Department of Defense Congressionally Funded Medical Research Program and a National Science Foundation fellowship. The material that was used in the study was originally developed to treat osteoarthritis that developed after a traumatic injury, but the research team now believe it can be adapted to treat age-related Osteoarthritis too.

This could potentially bring relief to millions of people and could pave the way for a complete cure to joint diseases and help people lead better and fuller lives.

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