Working on the use of mesenchymal stem cells in bone and cartilage regeneration
The routine use of cell-based therapies involving mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) within the clinic is close to becoming reality; however, there are still some obstacles to overcome. The stem cell focus area aims to transition MSCs towards clinical applications for bone and cartilage regeneration. The initial isolation and expansion of MSCs still relies on simple methods (adherence to plastic), which are sub-optimal and result in a functionally heterogeneous population of cells. We aim to develop better methods for separating the MSC population based on predictive functional markers. This will enable us to determine whether the MSC separation is a requirement for optimal performance and, if so, to isolate a more functionally pure population.
Once the cells have been obtained, their differentiation into the various possible phenotypes requires a detailed understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms. We are investigating the role of multiple stimuli—such as mechanical stimulation, growth factors and gene therapy—in the process of stem cell differentiation. In particular, the use of mechanical stimulation is a feasible mechanism to promote healing by improving rehabilitation protocols. We aim to reproducibly and stably induce the cell type required for the tissue being treated. Finally, the use of stem cells would likely be increased if the procedures involved were carried out entirely within the operating theater.
This ‘regenerative medicine’ approach enhances the patient's own healing ability and would have fewer complications than the more traditional tissue engineering approach, but due to the small number of initial cells, novel strategies are needed to optimize the function of the limited cells available. Combining the initial treatment with an optimal rehabilitation protocol is leading to a new area of regenerative rehabilitation.