16 October 2023

New discovery could help arthritis patients

Researchers have developed a vascularized synovial sheath on a chip that mimics a human joint.

Scientists have developed a 3D "organ-on-a-chip" with blood vessels that mimics a human joint. The discovery will help scientists better understand the pathology of joint diseases and find and test new treatments for arthritis.

Joint diseases caused by arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, are characterized by inflammation of the synovial membrane, the membrane that lines the joint cavities and produces a viscous fluid. It lubricates the joint, preventing it from wearing down during movement. Other than treating the pain and swelling associated with the debilitating condition, there is no other treatment.

Therapies targeting synovial fluid have great potential for treating joint arthritis, but require a model that accurately reproduces complex human physiology. Now researchers at Queen Mary University of London have made have created a three-dimensional "organ-on-a-chip" containing human synovial cells and blood vessel cells.

"Our model is the first human vascularized synovial tissue on a chip with applied mechanical loading and successfully reproduces a number of key features of native synovial biology," said Timothy Hopkins, one of the study's co-authors.

The scientists first conducted a series of two-dimensional cell culture experiments to optimize culture conditions and experiments, which they then applied to an organ-on-a-chip model. It included primary human fibroblast-like synoviocytes (hFLS), specialized synovial cells and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), which can develop into functional vascular networks.

The researchers observed that hFLS exhibit behavior characteristic of the lining layer of the native human synovial membrane. In humans, it is highly vascularized. Also, hFLS secreted major components of synovial fluid and responded to inflammation and mechanical stretching.

The results of the study showed that synovial sheath-on-a-chip can better understand disease mechanisms and identify and test new treatments for arthritic diseases, including personalized models of the synovial sheath and related organ-on-a-chip tissues.

The study is published in the journal Biomedical Materials.
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