Posted on 4 October 2011
The exploratory research has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of osteoarthritis, which causes pain and disability to eight million people in the UK. Treatments for early osteoarthritis are usually limited to non-surgical options such as pain killers and physiotherapy. Patients currently undergo joint replacement operations but only when the disease has deteriorated to a severe end stage.
The University of York is one of the four institutions that make up the new Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre, led by Newcastle University, to be launched on Thursday, October 6.
Within five years researchers aim to treat early osteoarthritis by introducing adult stem cells and other types of cell into damaged joints and repairing damage through less invasive operation such as keyhole surgery. If this proves successful, in future they hope to perform this procedure as a ‘one-stop’ day case treatment by injection or arthroscopy, which may delay the need for joint replacement surgery. Other long term aims include finding a way to ‘switch off’ stem cells already present in patients’ joints. Researchers also hope to develop an ‘off the peg’ bank of universal donor cells for use with any patient, making treatment cheaper and more widely available.
Dr Paul Genever, the principal investigator at the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre in York, said: “Every patient has their own ‘repair kit.’ Whereas joint replacement surgery uses metal and plastic to replace the severely damaged joint, we’re trying to treat at an earlier stage and assist the human body to repair itself.“Keyhole and minimally invasive operations for early arthritis have been in development for some years and we propose to improve upon these techniques and work towards more widely available treatments. This requires research at all levels of the process, from laboratory to bedside. We hope that elements of this approach will reach the patient in the operating theatre within the first five years.”
Whereas joint replacement surgery uses metal and plastic to replace the severely damaged joint, we’re trying to treat at an earlier stage and assist the human body to repair itself
Dr Paul Genever
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK said: “This early experimental work is the first step on a journey that could significantly reduce the need for joint replacement operations.
“It’s hugely exciting. At the moment joint replacement surgery is the most effective treatment we have but we have to allow people with osteoarthritis to deteriorate until they reach a suitable point for surgery. This means patients are living for years with increasing pain and disability which has an impact on their quality of life.”
The team in York will focus on understanding the basic biology behind adult stem cells and how they function. Researchers will work with stem cells taken from the bone marrow of patients who have undergone hip and knee replacement surgery.
The team will attempt to recreate the niche (the specialist environment in which stem cells live in bone marrow) in the laboratory by combining stem cells with different cell types and matrix components. It is hoped that if the niche-like matrix is transplanted into damaged cartilage and bone loaded with a specific chemical or growth factors, it will regenerate cartilage and other tissues in osteoarthritis
Professor Silman continued: “Osteoarthritis of the hip and knee will be an increasing problem in our society as people age and want to remain active. Although joint replacement can be spectacularly successful, finding an injectable cell-based answer that could be used earlier would be a major breakthrough, reducing pain and disability and minimising health service costs. We believe our new centre will lead the way in this exciting field of research.”
The £6 million Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre is based at four sites: Newcastle University, the University of Aberdeen, Keele University/the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Oswestry and the University of York. Funded by a core grant of £2.5 million over five years from Arthritis Research UK with a further £3.4 million pledged by the four participating universities, the centre will bring together leading clinicians, engineers and biologists from research and clinical groups.
The University of York is making a £360,000 investment in the new centre.
For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org/tissueengineering.