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Scientists Create Cartilage From Stem Cells

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Scientists in the UK have successfully produced cartilage formed from embryonic stem cells in a method that could one day be used to treat osteoarthritis and other joint conditions.

In research supported by Arthritis Research UK, Professor Sue Kimber and her team in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester developed a protocol under strict laboratory conditions to grow and transform embryonic stem cells into cartilage cells (also known as chondrocytes).

According to the University of Manchester, the researchers analysed the ability of embryonic stems cells to become precursor cartilage cells, and then implanted them into cartilage defects in the knee joints of rats.

Four weeks later the cartilage was partially repaired, and after 12 weeks there was a smooth surface that looked similar to normal cartilage. Examination of this newly regenerated cartilage showed that cartilage cells from embryonic stem cells were still present and active within the tissue.

The scientists also reported that there were no signs of any side-effects such as abnormal joint tissue or tumours.

Commenting on the study, Professor Kimber said: “This work represents an important step forward in treating cartilage damage by using embryonic stem cells to form new tissue, although it´s still in its early experimental stages.”

Dr Stephen Simpson, director of research at Arthritis Research UK, welcomed the progress made by the team. He said: “Current treatments of osteoarthritis are restricted to relieving painful symptoms, with no effective therapies to delay or reverse cartilage degeneration. Joint replacements are successful in older patients but not young people, or athletes who´ve suffered a sports injury.

“Embryonic stem cells offer an alternative source of cartilage cells to adult stem cells, and we´re excited about the immense potential of Professor Kimber´s work and the impact it could have for people with osteoarthritis.”

A report on the study has been published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine.