New finger and toe joints have been successfully grown in people who have rheumatoid arthritis, an approach that could reduce immobility and pain associated with the disease.
The tissue engineering feat, which could be clinically available within a year, was accomplished by surgeons from Tampere University of Technology in Finland.
It utilizes a special scaffold that allows tissue growth between bones, and has already provided functional joints for more than 100 people.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks joints.
People with rheumatoid arthritis with particularly damaged joints can undergo surgery in which a plastic implant is inserted between bones.
Such implants, however, can be attacked by the body and break, after which they must be removed and replaced.
Instead of a plastic implant, professor Pertti Törmälä and colleagues from Tampere University used a special scaffold of yarn full of tiny holes to regrow joints.
They insert the scaffold, which measures 10-millimeters by three millimeters, between bones in fingers and toes.
Tissue grows through the holes and the biodegradable scaffold disintegrates within 18 months, leaving a healthy and functional new joint in its place.
First tested five years ago, the joint has demonstrated long-term benefits and has now received backing from the EU, which has provided funding to expand research to clinics in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Turkey.
This research will continue for a year, after which Törmälä and colleagues aim to make the procedure more widely available.