• Photo by Doug Sparks

Repairing the hole in joint disorders

Published as part of Australia and China Science and Technology Week at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

A painful condition of the jaw that affects 10 per cent of the Chinese population has stimulated Australian and Chinese bioengineers to develop an innovative approach to treating degenerative joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis.

The results of the work should provide valuable information on therapy for such conditions in other areas, such as the spinal cord, says Associate Professor Yin Xiao from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology.

“In China, over 130 million people suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders where the joint disc between the jaw and the skull damages and develops a hole. Our Chinese colleagues at Wuhan University have very strong clinical links to help us develop novel therapeutics to treat this disorder.”

Unlike typical finger joints or vertebral junctions, each TMJ actually consists of two joints, allowing it both to rotate and to slide. Over time, the bone and surrounding cartilage undergo natural wear and tear. In some people this can cause inflammation leading to constant pain even without moving the jaw.

There is a significant lack of understanding of TMJ disorders, Dr Xiao says. They are currently treated either by removing the disc entirely or using surgery to repair the hole. Neither of these interventions is particularly effective, according to Dr Xiao.

“We are working with Professor Xing Long from Wuhan University to develop a treatment where we generate stem cells, implant them in a collagen scaffold and deliver them to the site of tissue injury. It has already been tested in rabbits using samples from Wuhan University which were analysed here in Queensland, to develop a cellular treatment which will survive immune system attack.”