A team at the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory, Missouri University, US, created their in vitro model out of small sections of joint capsule and cartilage typically discarded after surgery on dogs. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly exploring novel tools and techniques aimed at reducing the number of animal experiments involved in drug research and this model could do just that for arthritis research. It could be used to investigate both the causes and mechanisms of arthritis disease progression and to screen new drugs that combat the disease. What's more, the MU scientists claim to have shown that the model gives valid results with direct implications for human arthritis. "These in vitro models will allow us to perform our research without using animals while still accurately mimicking situations in real life," said Professor James Cook, who headed up the research. "We can screen new drugs for arthritis in a more efficient and cost-effective way such that real progress is achieved more quickly." All of the tissue in a normal joint is 'grown' together, such that the different types of tissue can communicate as they do in the actual joint. The system maintains the tissues' appearance, composition, and function so that they react to health and disease as they would in real life, according to the scientists. "Using the joints in the test tubes will allow for greater flexibility when studying arthritis," Cook said. "It is strengthening our research as we are able to explain data on a molecular level and then translate it to what happens to people." As well as reduce the number of animal experiments, Cook believes the system makes the drug discovery process much safer. "If severe side effects occur, all we have do is assess what has happened to the tissues rather than trying to treat a laboratory animal or a patient with an adverse reaction," he concluded.