Patients affected by osteoarthritis of the finger joints experience pain and stiffness in the fingers and may find it difficult to perform many everyday tasks. The seven partners collaborating in the European research project APRICOT aim to develop a radically new type of implant for the treatment of osteoarthritis of small joints in the hand. It will not require invasive surgery and enables the preservation of healthy bone and tissue, which makes it outperform currently available techniques. The project will receive EUR 3 million in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme over the next four years. The research group led by Oliver Lieleg, Professor of Biomechanics at the Technical University of Munich and Principal Investigator at the Munich School of BioEngineering, will contribute to this project with their expertise in biotribology and biopolymers.
In joints affected by osteoarthritis, the cartilage that usually covers the bone ends is damaged so that the bone tissue surfaces rub against each other. Patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the finger joints will experience stiffness and pain in their fingers and they often have difficulties performing simple everyday tasks such as opening a jar. Currently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Common remedies include the use of pain medication and surgical procedures such as fusing the affected bones or replacing the joint with an artificial implant.
Implant to relieve pain and restore mobility
The international research consortium APRICOT has now set out to develop a novel, extremely thin implant that will relieve the pain and restore mobility to the joint. “The implant will resemble a small cushion filled with a thin layer of lubricating fluid,” explains Oliver Lieleg, Professor of Biomechanics at the TUM and Principal Investigator at the Munich School of BioEngineering. The implant will be placed between the articulating surfaces of the affected joint and allow them to move against each other smoothly.
Professor Lieleg’s research group is responsible for developing a lubrication technology for the implant that ensures a smooth movement of the joint, withstands many years of intense use, and can be manufactured in an industrial process. “The lubrication will be based on the interaction between different kinds of polymer molecules,” Professor Lieleg explains. “While molecules of one kind will be attached to the inner surface of the implant, others will be dispersed in the fluid. This approach is based on the mechanism found in natural joints.”
“Restoring the natural range of motion of finger joints, APRICOT will go beyond current implant solutions, helping patients return to their normal day-to-day lives”, says Professor Martin Browne from the University of Southampton, UK, coordinator of the project. “APRICOT will have a significant societal impact potentially reducing the burden of pain for millions suffering from osteoarthritis and relieving healthcare systems as a whole.”
The project is a cooperation of seven research institutions and industrial companies from four countries and brings together world-leading experts in the fields of implant development, surface functionalisation, additive manufacturing and biocompatibility assessment. In addition to the generation of intellectual property across a wide range of technologies, demonstration of proof of principle will increase stakeholder investment, and further support will enable the implant to undergo clinical trials.
The project will receive EUR 3 million in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 FET Open Program over the next four years. FET Open supports the early-stages of the science and technology research and innovation around new ideas towards radically new future technologies. The project’s name APRICOT is an acronym standing for Anatomically Precise Revolutionary Implant for bone Conserving Osteoarthritis Treatment.
The APRICOT project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 863183.
Website of the APRICOT project: https://apricot-project.eu/
Prof. Dr. Oliver Lieleg
Technical University of Munich
Munich School of BioEngineering