Right now, if you tear a ligament or damage the meniscus in your knee, surgeons cut it out or piece it back together or replace it with one from a cadaver.
But in a few years, they could implant an experimental material spun from tiny fibers - nanofibers. A nanofiber is a millionth of a meter.
When the nanofiber material is put into an injury,itl attracts healing cells to rebuild the damaged area.
The material is made with a fine spray of several polymers. They fall like snow onto a rotating drum. One set of fibers is arranged to mimic the natural fibers of the ligament, tendon, or meniscus. The other fibers fill space, but in a loose array, to allow the body's cells to settle into the material, and begin healing the damage. They are water-soluble, so they will disappear as the spot heals.
Robert Mauck, Ph.d., who leads the team, says it could avoid years of pain - and possibly the need for joint replacements.
"Any method we can bring to market that could be used to replace that segment of the meniscus would save those patients from moving forward to osteoarthritis at an earlier age," he says.
The material can be custom-made for the spot it'll repair. So a new "ligament" would flex and stretch in the same manner as a natural one. The same would be true for other parts replaced.
It's being tested in large animals now. Researchers hope to start trials in humans within a year or so.