The meniscus in the knee joint acts as a shock absorber and absorbs peak stresses and loads. It is often injured by sudden stop-and-go or twisting movements which apply very high forces to the knee joint. If the injured meniscal tissue has to be partially or completely resected, the risk of developing osteoarthritis will increase subsequently. As a regeneration specialist, Geistlich wants to minimize this risk and is coordinating the MEFISTO research and innovation project supported by the European Union. MEFISTO is a joint effort of 13 international partners from industry and research labs with a common goal: To develop a product for replacing missing meniscus tissue.
MEFISTO strives to offer patients an alternative following meniscus loss to reduce the increased risk of osteoarthritis. This is done with biofunctional solutions. Biofunctional means that these products are capable of undertaking the intended regenerative function in mutual interaction with the human body. Early risk detection and an appropriate treatment is of utmost importance and can relieve the healthcare system of the costs associated with early osteoarthritis.
Learning from nature's examples
Nature delivers the essential impetus for developing novel medical devices. It has developed optimized structures and processes over the course of evolution, from which we humans can learn. This has led researchers to translate natural phenomena into technology. The aim is to assign new functions to the biological material so it can emulate biological processes.
The Geistlich researchers are working with medical grade collagen fibers. Collagen is a very well-tolerated structural protein that occurs in connective tissue, tendons, cartilage and bones, and is the main constituent of the meniscus. These collagen fibers are mixed with particles of polymers and peptides filled with active ingredients and factors. Carla Zihlmann, Product Development Engineer at Geistlich, explains: “These agents and factors release growth factors in the outer zone of the meniscus near the capsule, which stimulate the formation of new blood vessels, for example. In the inner zone of the meniscus, however, this process is inhibited by the release of factors that prevent vascularization.”
New tools for medical regeneration
3D-printed collagen opens up completely new perspectives for medical regeneration. Niklaus Stiefel, Principal Scientist at Geistlich, adds: “We're acquiring a new set of tools to advance patient-specific tissue regeneration. It's a fascinating starting position for me as a researcher!”
The MEFISTO project is supported by funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 814444 (MEFISTO).