New UK tissue engineering centre to develop treatment for early osteoarthritis

Arthritis Research UK has launched a £6 million experimental tissue engineering centre which aims to regenerate bone and cartilage by using patients’ own stem cells to repair the joint damage caused by osteoarthritis.

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 new centre is led by Newcastle University and based at four sites across the UK: Newcastle University, The University of Aberdeen, Keele University/the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and the University of York.

Within five years researchers at the centre aim to treat early osteoarthritis by introducing adult stem cells and other types of cell into damaged joints, and repairing damage through less invasive operations such as keyhole surgery. If this proves successful, in future they hope to perform this as a ‘one stop’ day case procedure, which may delay the need for joint replacement. Other long term aims include finding a way to ‘switch on’ stem cells already present in patients’ joints. Researchers also hope to develop an ‘off the peg’ bank of universal donor cells for use in the patient, making treatment cheaper and more widely available.

Professor Andrew McCaskie, centre director and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine and the Freeman Hospital, part of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Every patient has their own ‘repair kit’. Whereas joint replacement uses metal and plastic to replaces 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 five years.”

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 people with osteoarthritis cope with years of increasing pain and disability until they reach the point where surgery becomes a viable option.”

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 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.

Source: BOA, Arthritis Research UK