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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 12:53 GMT
Finger and toe joints 'grown' for patients
The technique could potentially help millions of people
Surgeons say they have successfully grown new finger and toe joints in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

They say the technique can reverse the damage caused by the disease, restoring movement and eliminating pain.

They have used a specially designed mould to help tissue grow between two bones and create a functional joint in over 100 patients.

Surgeons at Tampere University of Technology in Finland say it could become widely available within a year.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of the lining of the joints. The affected joint can lose its shape, resulting in the loss of normal movement.

Joints can feel tender, stiff and swollen. These symptoms can last for an extended period of time or may suddenly flare up and then recede again. In severe cases the condition can cause serious joint damage and disability.

The patient can start moving their finger or toe almost immediately
Professor Pertti Törmälä,
Tampere University of Technology
The condition affects more than two million people in the UK, twice as many women as men.

Surgery is available for people whose joints are particularly damaged or painful. This generally involves placing a plastic implant between bones to help restore proper movement.

However, these implants can become brittle and can break. If this happens, they need to be removed and replaced.

This latest technique could get around this problem.

Tissue growth

Professor Pertti Törmälä and colleagues have developed a specially designed mould or scaffold made of yarn, which is full of tiny holes.

This scaffold, which is 10mm in diameter and 3mm thick, is fitted in the gap between bones in the fingers or toes.

It is designed so that tissue grows through these tiny holes filling the empty space between the bones effectively creating a new joint.

The scaffold itself is biodegradable so it disappears in about 18 months, leaving just the tissue.

"The patient can start moving their finger or toe almost immediately," Professor Törmälä told BBC News Online. "The joint functions in the same way as a healthy joint."

Surgeons first tested the technique on patients five years ago. They have now used it in over 100 people with rheumatoid arthritis.

"We have followed many of these patients for the past few years. For the vast majority, their problems have disappeared. Most of the patients have been very happy."

The surgeons recently received European Union funding to expand their study to see how effective the new technique is.

"It is being tested in clinics in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Turkey," Professor Törmälä said.

"This study will be continuing for another year. We hope we will then be able to make this procedure more widely available."


SEE ALSO:
Tropical worm 'relieves pain'
17 Mar 03  |  Health
Arthritis
11 Apr 03  |  Medical notes


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