The orthobiologics field, which merges biological therapies with traditional orthopaedic healing and surgical techniques, is exploding. Why? Because in many circumstances, tissues can be induced to heal—or even re-grow—if the right environment is provided. Here is the latest.
We have now entered the Anabolic Era of orthopaedics. In the past, surgeons would resect (cut out) torn tissues and tell patients to come back when they needed a joint replacement. Today the preferred strategy for treating (or avoiding) arthritis is to repair, regenerate, and replace injured tissues as soon as possible.
Tissue engineering has been around for a long time. I was fortunate to invent one of the first commercially successful orthopedic tissue regeneration devices, called the collagen meniscus implant (CMI), in the 1980s. This collagen scaffold was designed to induce meniscus tissue to re-grow into a trellis-like material. It has now been used thousands of times worldwide.
Many tissues, however, require more than just a scaffold to re-grow into; they benefit from a stimulus. Nature’s stimuli are called “growth factors”—like the testosterone hormone that children acquire in puberty to spur their growth. There are more than 1,000 different types of growth factors in human blood, and each plays a role in tissue healing. Along the walls of blood vessels live specialized cells called “stem cells.” These cells are primarily growth factor engines. They migrate to the site of an injury in the body and release their growth factors, often instructing other cells to perform specific healing activities—such as laying down new collagen fibers or forming new cartilage matrices. As you age, the number and potency of these stem cells declines.
Fortunately, there are now numerous outside sources of growth factors and stem cells. Each has pros and cons in its use for stimulating tissue healing. An entire industry is growing around products to harvest and concentrate these…