An injectable gel that hardens in light could speed the repair of torn cartilage and help injured athletes return to competition sooner.

The approach uses a patient’s own cartilage-producing cells and has the potential to be more effective and less invasive than conventional cartilage repair techniques, which may include extensive surgery, say American researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School in Cambridge.

When the liquid mixture is injected into areas where cartilage is torn, such as a knee joint, the material hardens into a gel upon exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving transplanted cells in place so they can grow new cartilage where needed.

“Using a patient’s own cartilage-producing cells, our goal is to place the cells into our new gel and inject them into the injury site so that cartilage grows where it is needed,” says study lead author Jason Burdick of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The gel itself won’t initially replace damaged cartilage, but will provide an optimum growth environment for implanted cartilage-producing cells so that new cartilage can be formed and help restore function.”

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