UK scientists are working on new methods to regenerate cartilage and bone by delivering genes to stem cells within the body to instruct them to turn into bone cells.
The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), could lead to a new approach to tissue engineering. With the ageing populations of Western countries it holds the potential of significant benefits for patients needing joint replacement or similar treatments.
The new research will use tiny nanoscopic systems that cross the surface of a stem cell and then deliver the genes into that prompt the cell to turn into a bone cell.
Professor Richard Oreffo at the University of Southampton and Dr Martin Garnett and Professor Kevin Shakesheff at the University of Nottingham are developing scaffolds to act as a coating around the nanoscopic gene delivery systems. The scaffold controls the release of the gene delivery systems to generate the prolonged formation and development of bone tissue.
The research teams are using the scaffold technology to develop therapeutic applications. They are investigating the most efficient and effective combinations of genes and delivery scaffold to trigger the highly complex process of bone formation. The technique, if successful, could provide a new source of bone tissue for orthopaedic procedures.
Professor Richard Oreffo, who is leading the team at the University of Southampton, said, "The key to the process is careful selection of the right genes for the job, and then identifying the right scaffold delivery mechanism to deliver the genes to enough stem cells to initiate the bone formation process. This method of gene delivery could provide significant healthcare benefits as trauma, degenerative disease and bone loss with old age all lead to patients needing orthopaedic procedures that require new bone.
Professor Oreffo added "It is important that we explore the potential of new methods and biotechnologies to help meet the healthcare needs of an ageing population. Although research such as this is currently a number of years from being available to patients it is important that fundamental research is carried out so we can develop the knowledge that can lead to clinical applications."