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Research Examines Whether Rubber Derived Polymer Can Produce Mature Cartilage Tissue

Robert Kepley, M.D., Director of Inpatient Surgical Services, Crystal Clinic Orthopaedic Center
Matthew Dilisio, M.D., Fourth-Year Summa Orthopaedic Surgery Resident, Winter 2011 Orthopaedic Focus

The Robert F. Kepley, M.D. Orthopaedic Fellowship began as a $1 million philanthropic gift made by the Rice family in December 2009. The fellowship is intended to provide support for resident physicians in  order to help them advance their knowledge of orthopaedics, support sound research initiatives investigating musculoskeletal problems, and contribute to the overall treatment of the region’s orthopaedic patients.

In addition to the strength of their research, the fellowship guidelines stress that recipients should possess the capacity to learn and demonstrate compassionate skills in their dealings with patients. One additional goal of the fellowship is to encourage resident physicians to consider returning to the Akron area for their careers.

The Robert F. Kepley, M.D. Orthopaedic Fellowship Committee chose the first recipient of the award at the 2011 annual graduating senior resident recognition dinner held on June 11.

Three research projects were submitted for consideration. The winning project is titled “Rubber City ArboCartilage: Bioengineered Human Hyaline Cartilage in an Arbomatrix Scaffold,” submitted by Matthew Dilisio, M.D., a fourth-year Summa Orthopaedic Surgery resident.

The goal is to develop an orthopaedic implant that replaces damaged joint cartilage. Articular cartilage – the tissue that lines joints – has a limited capacity to heal. Current surgical treatments have shown limited long-term results. This often leads to the development of premature joint degeneration, pain and disability.  The current “Holy Grail” of orthopaedics is a cartilage tissue implant. Currently, one does not exist.

This implant could be used in the knee, ankle, shoulder and elbow, if not all joints in the human body. If successful, this device could prevent the pain and disability associated with post-traumatic arthritis. The study proposes that embedding human cartilage cells (chondrocytes) in a polymer derived from rubber (a thermoplastic electrospun polyisobutylene elastomer – Arbomatrix) will produce mature cartilage tissue.

This polymer was developed at the University of Akron by a project co-author, Judit Puskas, Ph.D. The material is successfully being used in clinical practice as the drug-eluting polymeric coating on a coronary stent. While working with Walter Horton, Ph.D., at Northeast Ohio Medical University, this orthopaedic collaboration has demonstrated extensive cartilage tissue production by cow (bovine) cartilage cells in the Arbomatrix polymer.

The working name for this project is Rubber City ArboCartilage because it uses a rubber derived from polymer invented in Akron, a tissue engineering technique invented in Akron, and because the research is being conducted by Akron orthopaedic surgeons.

The Rice Family and the entire Fellowship Committee commend all three of the project submissions and, particularly, Dr. Dilisio and his co-investigators.