Newts inspire a new approach to osteoarthritis treatment

The amazing ability of newts to regenerate their own body tissue has inspired research by our biologists into possible new treatments for osteoarthritis.

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Newts can regenerate their own body tissue when they lose a limb – a process known as dedifferentiation. Now scientists at York, led by Dr Paul Genever in the Department of Biology’s Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre, have adapted this natural process to rejuvenate cells from people with osteoarthritis to repair worn or damaged cartilage.

There is currently no treatment to halt the progression of osteoarthritis, the world’s most common joint disease which causes pain and stiffness in the joints. Severe cases often require total joint replacement.

Stem cells

Studies by the York team focused on patients’ bone marrow stem cells, a valuable source of potential treatment because they can generate joint tissue the body will not reject when it is re-implanted. The problem is that as people grow older, the number of stem cells decreases and the remaining cells are less able to grow and repair tissue.

When newts get injured, their cells cluster and return to an embryonic-like stem cell form. In this state, cells multiply and generate the specialised cells needed for the formation of new tissue.

At York, researchers managed to recreate this process in the laboratories by growing human cells in 3D clusters.

Generating new tissue

Dr Genever said: “Using this technique, we have shown that human cells can also be dedifferentiated to an early embryonic stage. They are then capable of generating new tissues.

“The next stage is to find out more about the dedifferentiation process so that we can find the right treatment to encourage tissue repair in the damaged joint. That is our aim.”

The research, funded by a £190,158 award from the medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, is published in Nature Scientific Reports

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research and Planning at Arthritis Research UK said it was exciting, novel work in the field of regenerative medicine. “Although in its early experimental stages, it could take us a step closer to our ultimate goal of a more effective and much-needed new treatment for the very many people who live with this painful joint condition.”

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This is exciting, novel work in the field of regenerative medicine”

Dr Stephen Simpson
Director of Research and Planning, Arthritis Research UK
Featured researcher
Dr Paul Genever

Dr Paul Genever

Dr Genever's research is focused on identifying cellular and molecular pathways that regulate differentiated tissue function, primarily in skeletal systems (bone, cartilage, marrow)

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Arthritis Research UK is the charity dedicated to stopping the devastating impact that arthritis has on people’s lives

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Human cell dedifferentiation in mesenchymal condensates through controlled autophagy is published in Nature Scientific Reports.