• Woven fiber scaffold of the new artificial cartilage.

    Credit: Frank Moutos and Farshid Guilak

    Woven fiber "scaffold" of the new artificial cartilage.

A recent breakthrough by Duke University researchers reveals the increasingly intimate relationship between human technologies and natural systems. Aiming to create a superior artificial cartilage, the scientists created a composite material that is the closest approximation yet of its natural model.

Making a synthetic cartilage has so far been a challenge, based on natural cartilage's remarkable ability to remain both strong and flexible under repeated stresses. The new composite is a 1 mm thick fabric of interwoven fibers with integrated hydrogel. The 3D "scaffold" provides a conducive surface for growing stem cells, with a resulting pliability that emulates the stuff connecting your bones with your joints.

The scientists hope their new cartilage will provide relief to millions currently experiencing pain from the loss of natural cartilage due to injury or overuse.

"From a mechanical standpoint, this technology remedies the issues that other types of synthetic cartilage have had," said Xuanhe Zhao, a Duke assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, in a university press release. "It's a very promising candidate for artificial cartilage in the future."

The cartilage's "scaffold" integrated with the hydrogel.

The cartilage's "scaffold" integrated with the hydrogel.

Credit: I-Chien Liao, Frank Moutos, Brad Estes

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.