First promising results; the potential of cartilage implants is explored
A WSU research team examined the effects of gallic acid in combination with stretching mechanisms on human cartilage cells of arthritic knees to mimic the stretch of walking. The results revealed both a decrease in arthritis inflammation in the early results.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that degrades cartilage tissue, explains Terreill Robertson II, a doctoral student in chemical engineering.
“You have these native properties of cartilage that are thought to have these functions,” Robertson said. “But once it becomes a disease state, those cartilage features… aren’t as healthy anymore. It’s not sturdy.
Osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal disorder and affects more than half of the population over the age of 75, according to the study published by researchers.
Gallic acid, found in gall nuts and green tea, is an antioxidant — or nutraceutical compound — along with vitamins E and C to reduce inflammation. It is the most powerful antioxidant among others, according to the study.
With osteoarthritis, reactive oxygen species are present in diseased cartilage and cause increased cell death. This causes inflammation of the cartilage, Robertson said.
Gallic acid’s antioxidant properties serve as scavengers and neutralize free radicals in diseased tissue, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is understand whether these oxygen scavengers, or antioxidants, help maintain healthy cartilage or reverse osteoarthritis,” said Bernard Van Wie, WSU professor at the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and Principal Investigator of the study. .
Gallic acid and stretching both had positive impacts in the study, but the sum of the two methods had a synergistic impact, Van Wie said.
“So how do you put that into practice? We don’t know for sure,” he said.
One potential direction of research is to see if it’s possible to make healthier cartilage in the lab. By making healthier cartilage, it might be possible to implant it in a knee with a hole or damaged cartilage, Van Wie said.
“It’s called tissue engineering, and that’s what we’re working on in our lab,” he said.
Despite the positive results, it’s important to note that gallic acid is not a miracle cure and any potential for a prescribed antioxidant should be left to the medical community, Van Wie said.
“One of the big issues is that this antioxidant, once digested, can it stay in the same form?” he said. “Does it migrate to the right place through the bloodstream, [is it] going to get the blood flow out into the joints and cause the cells to be in a healthier environment? This is a very large order.
Van Wie said if researchers can figure out what’s going on at the molecular level to improve cartilage, maybe there’s a way to replicate it. This could include medication or an injection into the knee joint which can cause cartilage to regenerate.
“We’re trying to figure out what we call mechanisms: what’s going on from molecule to molecule inside the cell surface that makes things happen,” he said. “And maybe by understanding that, we can replicate it in other ways.”