Yes, Humans Can Regrow Cartilage! (new study)

Cartilage Regrown by HumansResearchers at Duke University just published a breakthrough study in the journal Science Advances showing that humans have the ability to repair and regrow cartilage similar to other species like salamanders, lizards and zebrafish.  This has important implications for the treatment of joint injuries and arthritis.

Humans have always had the ability to regrow tissue

For years, scientists have acknowledged that humans have some ability to regenerate tissue: when children’s fingertips are amputated, the tips can sometimes regenerate if treated correctly. The scientific community thought that these regenerative capabilities were limited to children and that humans were unable to counteract long term cumulative damage to their joints. This new research seems to disprove this theory.

Miracle molecule helps human cartilage regenerate: no matter how old or damaged

The general consensus among scientists has been that, after years of wear or following damage from injury, human cartilage is incapable of repairing itself. The research team at Duke discovered that humans do, in fact, have the ability to repair their cartilage, no matter their age or injury history. They identified two key factors linked to cartilage repair and regeneration.

There’s a molecule found in cartilage, known as micro RNA, that regulates joint tissue repair. It turns out that MicroRNA is very active in species known for joint, limb and fin repair, like salamanders, lizards and zebrafish. In fact, MicroRNA is an evolutionary artifact that’s also found in humans, although it is a lot less active in us than in other species.

Ankles can regenerate cartilage more than knees and hips!

The Duke team studied cartilage samples from human hips, knees and ankles and observed that human MicroRNA is more active in ankles, moderately active in knees and least active in hips.  What’s more, they discovered that the cellular “age” of cartilage, namely how much cellular turnover it has undergone, impacts its ability to heal.

The scientists observed that cartilage “age” was greatest at the hip, moderate at the knee and the youngest cartilage was found in the ankle. This may explain why injuries to ankles heal quicker than those of knees or hip joint injuries, and why there is a lower incidence of ankle arthritis as compared to knee or hip arthritis.

Is this the gateway to limb regeneration research?

Humans can Regrow Cartilage

These two findings lay important groundwork for future research because, one day soon, scientists will be able to identify those cells in salamanders not found in humans which enable salamanders to regenerate entire limbs.

When this happens, perhaps researchers will be able to reproduce these regenerator cells and create a “cocktail” mixture with human MicroRNA that can be injected into humans to repair joint injuries or maybe be developed into medicines that can prevent or reverse arthritis.

And, who knows? Maybe one day in the not too distant future, scientists will discover the key to regenerating entire human limbs so we humans can channel our inner salamander!

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Latest posts by Dr. Gary B. Briskin, DPM, FACFAS

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