Public Release: 

UTA researcher uses microscaffolding injections to mend cartilage, prevent osteoarthritis

Stem cell generation

University of Texas at Arlington


IMAGE: Liping Tang, professor and interim chair of the bioengineering department at the University of Texas at Arlington, is working on a US Army grant that will use microscaffolding injections to... view more

Credit: UT Arlington

A UT Arlington bioengineering professor has received a $1.04 million grant from the U.S. Army that aims to regenerate cartilage tissue and reduce osteoarthritis using a patient's own stem cells, spurred through the injection of microscaffolding made of biodegradable polymers.

Liping Tang, a bioengineering professor and interim chair of the bioengineering department, said the research is primarily focused on helping soldiers who are severely injured on the battlefield.

"We've found that if we inject microscaffolding that we've developed into the injured area, it can trigger the stem cell generation needed for proper healing," Tang said.

Posttraumatic osteoarthritis develops as a result of improper healing of joints, which turn arthritic. It often occurs in soldiers with broken bones from blasts, shrapnel and gunshot wounds.

Joints and cartilage are surrounded by stem cells that need instruction in where to go and what to do, Tang said.

"The microscaffolding recruits a patient's stem cells that are needed in the healing process," Tang said. "Biomolecules will be released from the scaffolds to transform stem cells into cartilage cells to form new cartilage tissue while reducing the symptoms associated with arthritis."

Tang said this new treatment is aimed at not only reducing posttraumatic osteoarthritis symptoms but also curing it by regenerating new cartilage tissue using patients' own stem cells.

Common treatments for osteoarthritis, such as anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers, can reduce symptoms in the early stages. However they are ineffective in curing the disease.

As a result, patients often undergo joint replacements that often fail due to poor healing and union with surrounding tissue. In addition, multiple surgical interventions are needed to fix the joints over the patients' lifetimes.

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said Tang's research also gives hope for people who suffer through some other traumatic injuries to cartilage.

"The injectable scaffolds developed can be used not only by soldiers but also millions of people worldwide who suffer from arthritis," Behbehani said. "The use of injectable and injury-targeting scaffolds minimizes the trauma of surgical operations and the use of the patient's own stem cells alleviates any concerns of immune rejection and ethical concerns."

Stem cell therapies have been widely used in recent years with some amount of success. However, existing methods involve painful extraction of stem cells from the patients followed by time consuming and labor-intensive expansion in laboratories.

Stem cell transplantation has been shown to reduce inflammatory symptoms. However, that therapy hasn't produced new cartilage tissue.

Tang said the new research should reduce the amount of injury time and the amount of recovery time in these types of injuries.

Tang said he and his team believe this research could graduate to a clinical setting using patients within five years.

Collaborators include Joseph Borrelli, chair of orthopedics for Texas Health Arlington Memorial, and Christopher Chen, assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of research in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

The proposed work is likely to create a new strategy not only to reduce posttraumatic osteoarthritis symptoms but also to permanently cure the disease.

Tang and Borrelli co-authored a paper that used biodegradable polymer scaffolding material and bone morphogenetic protein, or BMP, which was inserted into the abdomen of mice to attract stem cells that in turn produced bone. The paper, "Tissue Engineering Bone Using Autologous Progenitor Cells in the Peritoneum," was published by the online journal PLoS One.


About UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.

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