Nose cartilage cells can repair knee cartilage damage
29 August 2014
Cells taken from the nasal septum are able to adapt to the
environment of the knee joint and can thus repair articular
cartilage defects, according to researchers at the University and
the University Hospital of Basel.
The nasal cartilage cells' ability to self-renew and adapt to the
joint environment is associated with the expression of so-called HOX
genes. The research is published in the journal Science
Cartilage lesions in joints often appear in older people as a
result of degenerative processes. However, they also regularly
affect younger people after injuries and accidents. Such defects are
difficult to repair and often require complicated surgery and long
This new treatment option has now been presented by a research
team lead by Prof. Ivan Martin, professor for tissue engineering,
and Prof. Marcel Jakob, Head of Traumatology, from the Department of
Biomedicine at the University and the University Hospital of Basel.
Cartilage cells from the nasal septum (nasal chondrocytes) have a
distinct capacity to generate a new cartilage tissue after their
expansion in culture. In an ongoing clinical study, the researchers
have so far taken small biopsies (6mm in diameter) from the nasal
septum from seven out of 25 patients below the age of 55 years and
then isolated the cartilage cells. They cultured and multiplied the
cells and then applied them to a scaffold in order to engineer a
cartilage graft the size of 30 x 40mm.
A few weeks later they removed the damaged cartilage tissue of
the patients' knees and replaced it with the engineered and tailored
tissue from the nose. In a previous clinical study conducted in
cooperation with plastic surgeons and using the same method, the
researchers from Basel recently already successfully reconstructed
nasal wings affected by tumours.
Surprising cellular adaptation
The scientists around first author Dr Karoliina Pelttari were
especially surprised by the fact that in the animal model with
goats, the implanted nasal cartilage cells were compatible with the
knee joint profile; even though the two cell types have different
During the embryonic development, nasal septum cells develop from
the neuroectodermal germ layer, which also forms the nervous system;
their self-renewal capacity is attributed to their lack of
expression of some homeobox (HOX) genes. In contrast, these HOX
genes are expressed in articular cartilage cells that are formed in
the mesodermal germ layer of the embryo.
Articular cartilage replaced: MRI of defect
tissue site before (left) and four months after (right)
transplantation (Fig: Department of Biomedicine, University of
“The findings from the basic research and the preclinical studies
on the properties of nasal cartilage cells and the resulting
engineered transplants have opened up the possibility to investigate
an innovative clinical treatment of cartilage damage”, says Prof.
Ivan Martin about the results.
It has already previously been shown that the human nasal cells'
capacity to grow and form new cartilage is conserved with age.
Meaning, that also older people could benefit from this new method,
as well as patients with large cartilage defects. While the primary
target of the ongoing clinical study at the University Hospital of
Basel is to confirm the safety and feasibility of cartilage grafts
engineered from nasal cells when transplanted into joint, the
clinical effectiveness assessed until now is highly promising.
Pelttari K, et al. Adult human neural crest-derived cells
for articular cartilage repair. Science Translational Medicine,
6, 251ra120 (2014). doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009688