Scientists from the University of Michigan and the University of Jiangnan in China have developed a hydrogel, made mainly from Kevlar, which is said to have the same properties as natural cartilage.
It is very difficult, and even impossible, to repair damaged cartilage with current medical technology: cartilaginous implants have to be strong in order to withstand the abrasion and deformation it will undergo in a moving joint. However, the tissue must contain enough liquid to enable the chondrocytes, the cells that build the cartilage, to grow, while the cartilage’s strength and flexibility come from its ability to re-absorb the water released during biomechanical effort.
Based on this observation, the American and Chinese researchers devised a material composed of 92% water which has the same properties as bone cartilage. It is a hydrogel mainly made from Kevlar, a synthetic fibre known for its strength, this is the same material used in bulletproof vests, combined with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). This new hybrid material combining strength and resistance could one day be used to replace damaged cartilage or other soft tissue in the body.
This being said, it will probably be a few long years before the Kevlartilage is used in hospitals. For the time being, the researchers are looking to patent their composite and find partner companies to sell the technology to. Although it will not be launched before a long series of tests and experiments have been carried out, this new chemical composite could serve to heal severe joint damage and be used in many medical applications.