Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Engineering Lubrication in Articular Cartilage

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


Despite continuous progress toward tissue engineering of functional articular cartilage, significant challenges still remain. Advances in morphogens, stem cells, and scaffolds have resulted in enhancement of the bulk mechanical properties of engineered constructs, but little attention has been paid to the surface mechanical properties. In the near future, engineered tissues will be able to withstand and support the physiological compressive and tensile forces in weight-bearing synovial joints such as the knee. However, there is an increasing realization that these tissue-engineered cartilage constructs will fail without the optimal frictional and wear properties present in native articular cartilage. These characteristics are critical to smooth, pain-free joint articulation and a long-lasting, durable cartilage surface. To achieve optimal tribological properties, engineered cartilage therapies will need to incorporate approaches and methods for functional lubrication. Steady progress in cartilage lubrication in native tissues has pushed the pendulum and warranted a shift in the articular cartilage tissue-engineering paradigm. Engineered tissues should be designed and developed to possess both tribological and mechanical properties mirroring natural cartilage. In this article, an overview of the biology and engineering of articular cartilage structure and cartilage lubrication will be presented. Salient progress in lubrication treatments such as tribosupplementation, pharmacological, and cell-based therapies will be covered. Finally, frictional assays such as the pin-on-disk tribometer will be addressed. Knowledge related to the elements of cartilage lubrication has progressed and, thus, an opportune moment is provided to leverage these advances at a critical step in the development of mechanically and tribologically robust, biomimetic tissue-engineered cartilage. This article is intended to serve as the first stepping stone toward future studies in functional tissue engineering of articular cartilage that begins to explore and incorporate methods of lubrication.