Worldwide interest in crocodile cartilage as a potential key to joint repair

Published:07 August 2018

CQUniversity researcher Dr Padraig Strappe pictured in his laboratory at the Central Queensland Innovation and Research Precinct (CQIRP).

Koorana Crocodile Farm produces skins for Italian fashion houses, meat for Australian diners, bones for dog food and even feet for stubby coolers. However, another of its products could one day be even more important.

CQUniversity researcher Dr Padraig Strappe has been visiting Koorana, near Rockhampton, to collect crocodile cartilage left over after the processing system.

Dr Strappe is leading a study aiming to extract valuable growth factors from the crocodile cartilage while removing proteins that can trigger an immune response in humans.

He says the resulting decellularised cartilage (in the form of a soup or glue) could promote human adult stem cells (taken from fat tissue or bone marrow) to become cartilage.

"We hope that might promote cartilage repair for treatment of joint injury or arthritis, which is a big challenge and becoming more so in elderly populations."

Dr Strappe envisages 3D bio-printing to produce cartilage explants that could later be injected or implanted into damaged human joints.

"This new technology could potentially replace the arthroscopy treatment that many cartilage-injury patients currently undergo," he says.

Crocodiles were at the top of the list of species investigated by a previous study which ranked the richness of proteoglycans (specialised molecules) in animal cartilage.

"A crocodile has very big articulating joints so it needs a lot of cartilage to maintain that movement," Dr Strappe says.

"The cartilage around the rib cage of the crocodile is particularly rich in proteoglycans, making it the most valuable part for our research.

"We are currently focused on maintaining funding for the project and generating interest among bio-tech companies that could potentially develop and market the technology."

Dr Strappe says it could take up to seven years to progress and test the technology to the point where it can be used in humans.

The next stage in the study is to ensure removal of immunogenic crocodile proteins (which could cause inflammation) whilst maintaining sufficient concentrations of biofactors to promote the conversion of adult stem cells to cartilage.