Biomedical engineers have developed a lubricant that doesn't wash away to help ease arthritis joint pain, and it can even aid in keeping artificial joints working or making contact lenses more comfortable. The engineers bound the lubricant to a sticky molecule, which locks itself to the surface of cartilage and eye tissue.
“What I like about this concept is that we’re mimicking natural functions that are lost, using synthetic materials,” Jennifer H. Elisseeff, a professor of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering and materials science at John Hopkins University, told Futurity.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is present in the fluid around joints such as knees, shoulders and wrists. It helps to naturally lubricate tissues and reduces inflammation. Damaged and aging joints have much less HA, which causes the pain. A method called viscosupplementation treats joint paint with HA injections. However, there is no way to keep the acid at the site of the pain as it soon gets washed away by the body's natural processes.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Materials, researchers tested HA-binding peptides (or HABpeps), which stick to HA to keep them at the site of pain. In the lab, they used HABpep as a chemical handle and used a synthetic molecule called polyethylene glycol to tie the HA to surfaces that include both natural and artificial cartilage and eye tissue.
Tests were conducted in tissues and in animals, and both found that the HA didn't easily wash away. There was also reduced friction, as if the tissue has been bathed in unbound HA. In a rat study, the bound HA stayed 12 times as long in comparison to rats that hadn't been given HABpep.
HABpep could also be used in eyedrop solution to help make contact lenses more comfortable and to keep damaged eye tissue lubricated.