Osteoarthritis: a chip “mimics” the disease to devise effective drugs

The research, published on Nature Biomedical Engineering, is coordinated by Politecnico di Milano


Osteoarthritis is the most widespread musculoskeletal pathology: it affects approximately 10% of men and 20% of women over sixty; figures set to rise further due to the progressive ageing of the population. Despite this tendency, the patients are faced with the total lack of DMOADs (Disease-modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs): drugs capable not only of alleviating the symptoms but also of stopping or inverting the degenerative process itself. Presently, in fact, the only valid options are palliative treatments or surgery.

MiMic, the Politecnico di Milano Microfluidic and Biomimetic Microsystems lab, has constructed a sophisticated coin-sized chip, where it is possible to grow cartilage and subsequently submit it to mechanical stimuli capable of generating the effects of osteoarthritis (OA).

Politecnico di Milano is the research Coordinator, through Professor Marco Rasponi, and is partnered by the University Hospital of Basel.

The research has not merely produced the revolutionary chip, but, in the course of the experiment, has proven that mechanical hyper-stimulation of the cartilage seems sufficient to induce the osteoarthritis pathology, without resorting to the administration of inflammatory molecules as so far done. The study has been published on the Nature Biomedical Engineering journal.

A suitable compression of articular cartilage induces in fact the typical symptoms of osteoarthritis: inflammation, hypertrophy and increase in the degradation processes. In the on-a-chip cartilage, therefore, an ideal environment is created in which we can test the efficacy and action mechanisms of drugs, thereby shortening experimental timeframes and costs and reducing the need to conduct tests on animals.

The research will proceed further towards a modelling of the entire on-a-chip articulation, thanks to a Fondazione Cariplo project that has been funded in response to the “2018 Biomedical Research on ageing-related diseases” call. The title of the project is “uKNEEque: a 3D microfluidic osteochondral model to investigate mechanisms triggering age-related joint pathologies and therapeutic effects of bioactive factors produced by nasal chondrocytes”.

Watch the video: youtu.be/C8UcD49zATw

To know more:
Hyperphysiological compression of articular cartilage induces an osteoarthritic phenotype in a cartilage-on-a-chip model.
Paola Occhetta, Andrea Mainardi, Emiliano Votta, Queralt Vallmajo-Martin, Martin Ehrbar, Ivan Martin, Andrea Barbero and Marco Rasponi
Nature Biomedical Engineering, volume 3, pages 545–557 (2019)