ARPAHProgram performer teams to develop innovative ways for joints to heal themselves 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), today announced the Novel Innovations for Tissue Regeneration in Osteoarthritis (NITRO) program’s five teams receiving awards to create and commercialize injectable and implantable regenerative therapies for osteoarthritis (OA). NITRO’s goal is to eradicate OA, a common and irreversible condition where bones and cartilage break down, and that often involves debilitating pain and loss of functional movement, and complex and costly reconstructive surgery.  

Surgery alone, however, cannot solve this foundational health challenge, which currently affects more than 32 million Americans, with numbers predicted to rise as the nation’s population ages. OA is the country's third most common type of disability. It is twice as common in women, has the highest prevalence in Black and Hispanic populations, and disproportionately impacts American Indian and Alaskan Native communities.   

“Through this revolutionary program, we seek to change how we treat osteoarthritis for millions of Americans by regenerating joint tissues, a task once believed to be impossible,” said Ross Uhrich, DMD, MBA, ARPA-H NITRO Program Manager. “NITRO was built with the understanding that its technologies must be accessible to all Americans. Beyond technical innovations, NITRO and its technical performer teams aim to ensure these revolutionary regenerative therapies benefit every American in need. Today, we take the first step towards creating a future without OA.” 

ARPA-H has selected five NITRO performer teams who will develop and leverage innovative forms of regenerative medicine to create minimally invasive therapeutics that fully regenerate damaged joints. NITRO will pursue three technical areas (TA) - injectable and/or non-invasive bone regeneration (TA1), injectable and/or non-invasive cartilage regeneration (TA2), and replacement joints built from human cells (TA3).   

The five performer teams are: 

  • A team led by Duke University for TA1 and TA2, focusing on time-release of therapies  
  • A team led by Washington University in St. Louis for TA1 and TA2, focusing on “smart cell” therapy 
  • A team led by University of Colorado Boulder for TA1 and TA2, focusing on engineered therapeutic materials 
  • A team led by Columbia University for TA3, focusing on integrated total knee implants 
  • A team led by Case Western Reserve University for TA3, focusing on modular total knee implants 

“Better science is inclusive science,” said ARPA-H Director Renee Wegrzyn, Ph.D. “The NITRO program is a true representation of ARPA-H’s mission to accelerate better health outcomes for all Americans, especially for those historically overlooked in research and living with the lifelong burden of osteoarthritis.” 

The NITRO program will ensure access for all solutions by requiring each performer team to implement and enforce clinical trial metrics, ensuring all NITRO program trials have enrollment of more than 50% women and are representative of the impacted populations. 

The ARPA-H model is inherently fast-paced to accelerate innovation. The first phase 1 clinical trials are anticipated in 2028, reflecting the need to help people fast without sacrificing safety. Additionally, ARPA-H provides tools and supports NITRO performer teams on transition plans for commercialization in order to deliver affordable, accessible product(s), market-ready for all affected by OA. 

For more on NITRO, visit the NITRO program page.