Osteoarthritis, which results when the cartilage and bone in the body’s joints wears down from stress, often causes swelling, stiffness, chronic pain and difficulty in walking. The condition is widespread in India; a scientific paper from 2016 estimated that between 22 and 39 percent of the country’s population suffers from it.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, though doctors recommend various treatment regimens, from lifestyle changes to joint-replacement surgeries. A lab in Assam is currently researching what may become a sophisticated new treatment for the condition—a silk-based tissue implant. Biman B Mandal, an associate professor in biosciences and bioengineering at IIT Guwahati, along with Jonathan Knowles, a professor at University College London, have developed a technology to synthesise mats made of silk proteins and bioactive glass fibres, creating a tissue substitute which, they think, will regrow patients’ bone and cartilage cells and repair their worn-out joints.
In January, I met Mandal in his lab—three large rooms housing an eclectic array of machines, from a fluorescent microscope to a 3D bioprinter. It was after 8 pm, but the lab’s researchers, wearing white coats, were still hard at work.