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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK
Pig gut helps knees heal
knee injury
Knee injuries are common and can be long-lasting
A "scaffold" made from pig's intestine could improve the healing of damaged knee ligaments, say experts.

Once all surrounding tissue is removed, connective tissue from the gut of the animal forms a strong mesh.

It is unlikely to be rejected by the human immune system, claim scientists.

Ligaments are the strong tissues which connect muscle to bone, allowing joint movement.

Damage to knee ligaments is common - and severe tears can be a career-threatening injury in sportmen and women.

Less serious sprains and tears can heal on their own, but the resulting tissue is liable to be weaker and more prone to further injury.

We have clearly shown that the quality of the tissue is better after treatmen

Dr Volker Musahl, researcher
The research team, from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, US, used their pig gut scaffold to "patch up" injuries to the medial collateral ligament on the inside of the knee.

Their experiments in rabbits suggested that the quality of the healed ligament was better than if the ligament had simply been left to get better on its own.

Dr Volker Musahl, who led the research, told a conference: "We have clearly shown that the quality of the tissue is better after treatment."

New blood

He said that the presence of the scaffold seemed to attract cells called fibroblasts which are useful in healing, and promote the development of new blood vessels in the area of the injury - which will also quicken the process.

Research now needs to be done to make sure that the pig gut repaired ligament is as strong as a naturally-healed version.

Dr Mike Benjamin, from Cardiff University, who conducts research into ligaments, told BBC News Online: "They use a layer of the pig's gut that is rich in connective tissue - effectively a rich source for the body.

"There is tremendous interest in trying to find good replacement materials for ligaments."

The research was published in New Scientist magazine.

See also:

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