Aberdeen scientists in new stem cell research that could prevent osteoarthritis

Scientists in Aberdeen are to carry out cutting-edge research to find out how stem cells regenerate cartilage in the common condition of osteoarthritis.

Professor Cosimo De Bari at the University of Aberdeen’s Division of Applied Medicine has been awarded £163,000 over three years by Arthritis Research UK to understand the role of stem cells in preserving joint tissues - including cartilage – and how they contribute to their healing.

Their ultimate aim is to enable stem cells to be used to regenerate damaged cartilage, in order to treat or even prevent osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis causes progressive breakdown of articular cartilage and bone, leading to joint failure. The most common form of joint disease, it is estimated that 20 per cent of people in the UK, Europe and the US will suffer from this debilitating, painful condition by 2030.

But despite its high prevalence, treatment options are limited to painkillers and ultimately joint replacement surgery.

“There is an unmet medical need for drugs that can prevent or halt osteoarthritis and restore a normal joint, but their development is limited because of the poor knowledge of the mechanisms underlying this very common joint condition,” explained Professor De Bari.

Stem cells may play a big part in maintaining healthy cartilage, and Professor De Bari and his team have already shown that they can be grown in the laboratory and are able to form several tissues, including cartilage and bone, which could be then used to repair cartilage.

“However, their function within the joint is unknown; if we knew the role of these stem cells in cartilage regeneration we would be able to develop new medications to target stem cells in the joint, in order to increase their ability to regenerate damaged joint tissues,” said Professor De Bari.

The team plan to perform unique laboratory experiments to study the role of joint stem cells in cartilage regeneration.

“Our strategy underpins a cross-discipline effort in medicine to manipulate, using drugs, stem cells present in the body, “added Professor De Bari. “ We anticipate that our approach will lead to new drug treatments to mobilise stem cells in the joint to get cartilage to heal, thus treating or even preventing osteoarthritis.”