They developed a bioactive hydrogel, injected it into holes punched into model cartilage, and found that precursor cells within the cartilage migrated toward the gel to fill in the injury site. The precursor cells were lured by the gel’s concentration of stromal derived factor 1 (SDF1), a molecular signaling factor that acts like a homing beacon. Subsequent application of a growth factor caused the cells to mature into normal cartilage that repaired the injury.
The team now needs to include the growth factor in the gel so there is a stepwise release of the attractant SDF1 followed by the growth factor. They plan to start animal trials within a year and, if the results are good, they hope to be ready to start human trials in about five years.