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Replacement body parts that never wear out could become a reality within a few years as the scientists say.
Dodgy knees and hips will be repaired using tissue engineering, while donor heart valves from animals are being specially treated to last indefinitely.
Longer-lasting artificial joints are already being tested in a bid to ensure people will be able to enjoy another 50 active years.
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X-ray of female pelvix with total hips replacement
Scientists at the University of Leeds Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering have launched a £50million research initiative focused on areas of the body most affected by ageing, including joints, spine, teeth, heart and circulation.
Unlike studies involving stem cells and growing ‘spare parts’ in a lab, the programme uses the body’s own regenerative systems. The Leeds scientists have developed a chemical wash that strips cells away from donated cartilage, heart valves, blood vessels and other tissue before they are put into a human body.
Research shows they become repopulated with cells within about six months. Some 40 patients have already been treated with modified heart valves in a study in Brazil.
Professor John Fisher, director of the institute and one of the world’s leading researchers into artificial joints, said research so far had shown the valves did not deteriorate and were not rejected by the body, because ‘foreign’ donor cells had all been stripped away.
The unique method of removing living cells from human and animal tissue creates a biological ‘scaffold’ that can be regenerated within the body, at the site which needs repairing.
Worn-out ligaments and cartilage in knees can be replaced with a scaffold that will eventually attract cells to make the joint last longer.
Other areas targeted for treatment are the spine – where discs can be replaced – elbow and shoulder tissues and parts of the knee. Vascular patches are being devised that seal the holes made in arteries when surgeons clear a blockage.
The technique is not suitjointsable for whole organs, however. Professor Fisher has also designed a ceramic-on-metal hip joint that reduces ten-fold the wear and tear on artificial joints.
As a result people should be able to get spare parts at an earlier age, when they are less disabled, and they could last up to 50 years, he said.
The professor added: ‘Hip have been used for nearly 50 years but nowadays people want to cycle, play tennis, even go skiing, so they have to last longer.’
He said a scaffolding transplant would cost only around £1,000 a time. It was much more expensive to grow cells outside the body, and there was a higher infection risk.
Professor Eileen Ingham, deputy director of the Institute, said stem cells were not the answer to structural replacement of wornout bits of the body such as heart valves.
She said: ‘We are working with the NHS National Blood & Transplant Tissue Services to apply it to human donor valves. Once a patient has one, it should last a lifetime.’
Professor Christina Doyle, chief executive of Xeno Medical, predicted that in 20-30 years there would be techniques capable of regenerating human tissue off-the-shelf for use in operations.
She said: ‘It will be a case of the surgeon dialling up for spare parts to be delivered in a sterilised plastic bag.’
Source:Mail Online, 20th. Oct.’09