Biomimetic.

The word may be a mouthful, but it may also help patients with various forms of arthritis.

Biomimetic substances are synthetic, but they can mimic natural biochemical processes in the body.

Scientists are now hopeful that a new biomimetic gel may be able to repair damage caused by arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and its more common counterpart, osteoarthritis (OA).

The gel mechanically reinforces cartilage that has been worn out due to injury, arthritis, or repeated wear and tear.

The latest study focused more on OA patients. However, RA is also known to have an effect on cartilage, especially in the knees.

The research, conducted by scientists out of Boston, and published in Angewandte Chemie, showed that adding a new polymer network can help re-establish and increase cartilage cushion in affected patients.

Read More: Get the Facts on Arthritis »

How Does It Work?

The study explained that the synthetic polymer network of the gel manipulates the natural biopolymer network in cartilage.

That process allows the gel to hydrate tissues and to help repair and add stability to the biophysics of the cartilage. It may also aid in halting or stabilizing the depletion of negatively charged polysaccharides called glycosaminoglycans.

That depletion is what triggers damage from diseases like OA and RA.

Using this knowledge, scientists created their own biomimetic gel that included the appropriate polymers with both positive and negative charges. The hope was that it would help heal the cartilage of arthritis patients.

The study revealed that, “compression tests with enzymatically degraded bovine cartilage showed that the gel can restore the original mechanical stability of the cartilage. The gel preferentially aggregates in areas that are particularly affected. A simulation of accelerated wear showed that healthy cartilage can also be effectively protected against degeneration by using this method. This new process thus seems to be highly promising for the treatment of osteoarthritis in its early stages.”

So far, this gel has only been tested on bovine (cow) cartilage. According to researchers, there still needs to be further testing on live small and large animals prior to any human trials in order to test the gel's safety and effectiveness. As of now, they have not begun the FDA approval process, according to Benjamin Cooper, a graduate researcher and co-author of the Boston study.

Unlike Voltaren, a commonly used topical NSAID for arthritis patients, a biomimetic gel acts a bit differently.

The gel is also slightly different from viscosupplementation hyaluronic acid, which is extracted from rooster combs.

Read More: Stem Cell Therapy a Possible Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis »

Now What?

Patients are often willing to try anything to gain some relief from the pain and disability that come along with arthritis.

Elizabeth Hobbes of Pittsburgh said, “I’d eat a couch if someone told me it would help my chronic pain. So yes, I’d try a gel, no matter how crazy it sounded.”

With arthritis affecting one in five people nationally, and being the number one cause for disability in the United States, it is no wonder that patients are desperate for a treatment that will work.

The gel is unique in that it reinforces the tissue from the inside out through its biomimicry. This is the only gel that works in this way, according to Cooper.

It is not available yet in the United States, but there are other gels currently available outside the U.S. that fill defects in the cartilage surface. In the U.S., there some cartilage-repair gels currently in pre-clinical development and clinicial trials, Cooper told Healthline.

Furthur information about past, present and future clinical trials in the United States can be found at clinicaltrials.gov.