Bring On the Bots!

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, afflicts more than 32 million Americans – especially women and minorities in their 50’s. It is progressive and incurable, leading to intense pain in the hips, knees, neck, and feet as joint cartilage that cushions bones breaks down.

Now, there is hope that one’s own stem cells can repair the damage if they stay in place. And that’s where researchers from Korea believe they have the answer. In studies on rabbits, they’ve developed a way to keep the stem cells situated where they can grow and repair cartilage. Small spheres called microbots, made from a chemical called PLGA, are coated with magnetic and biodegradable chemicals. They're half as small as a grain of sugar, and biodegrade after 3 weeks. Surgeons inject hundreds of these microbots into the injured joint, then wrap the area in a magnetic sleeve so the microbots and stem cells anchor in place. Over time, the cells attach to the injury site and grow to repair the cartilage.

This technique uses materials already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and human trials are planned. Doctors hope this treatment will alleviate the he cost of arthritis-related medical care, now estimated to cost Americans over 300 billion dollars a year!

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