09:17pm Tuesday 22 October 2019

Researchers to work on new treatment for early osteoarthritis

Researchers at the centre will carry out exploratory work which has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of osteoarthritis, repairing damage to joints caused by the disease.

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 has invested £1.2 million in the Newcastle-led Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre. 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 operations such as key-hole surgery.  If this proves successful, 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 patient’s 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.

A video about the centre can be seen here.

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 Foundation Trust 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.”

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.”

In Newcastle, Professor McCaskie, with colleagues Professor Kenny Dalgarno, Professor Anne Dickinson and Dr Mark Birch will focus on:
• Assessment of the immunogenicity of the stem cells from the same and a different donor and their interaction with new biomaterials for regenerative use.
• Enabling the technologies to be translational to the clinic by the use of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in their dedicated facilities.
• Investigating the manufacture of 3D matrices to support bone and cartilage regeneration, using special biomaterials which will slowly dissolve in the body as the natural tissue grows.  The team will engineer new scaffold materials that fulfil the mechanical demands of tissue replacement surgery and also devise approaches to deliver chemical or growth factor cues that can control the rebuilding of bone and cartilage.
• Working towards  clinical translation and surgical therapies

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.

Click here for more information and a video about the centre.

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