New Stem Cell Delivery System May Aid Cartilage Regeneration

12/09/09  Portland, Ore.

NFL Charities grant helps OHSU researcher test new method for stem cell delivery  

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are testing new methods for transplanting stem cells into knees, shoulders and hips to repair and rebuild damaged cartilage. The work is being done with the help of a grant from NFL Charities. The $125,000 grant was announced by NFL Charities today.

If successful, the new stem cell delivery system will revolutionize treatment of osteoarthritis and other chronic health problems caused by lost or damaged cartilage. Nearly half of the adult population will have some kind of arthritis by the year 2020, according to health care experts.

"When we use stem cells to rebuild damaged cartilage, such as in an injured knee, we need a scaffolding to hold the stem cells in place as they do their work, much like a scaffolding is required for construction of a new building,," said Brian Johnstone, Ph.D., research director for the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation in the OHSU School of Medicine.

However, scaffolding can get in the way of full recovery if it remains after the stem cells have become fully formed cartilage cells. That's why Johnstone and his team have developed a "bioresponsive" scaffold that is dismantled by the cells as they form the new cartilage. The scaffold is dismantled at just the right pace, which is critical.

"Timing is very important," Johnstone says. "You don't want it to happen too quickly or drag out so long that it inhibits the regeneration process. We've discovered a way for the cell's own enzymes to take apart the scaffolding at just the right speed."

Johnstone and his research team will use the NFL grant to begin testing the new scaffolding in mice. If successful, this could lead to a similar application in humans.

This is the second NFL Charities grant OHSU researchers have received in recent years. Last year, a group led by Jamie Fitzgerald, Ph.D., assistant professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation in the OHSU School of Medicine, announced the discovery of a strain of mice with the natural ability to regenerate damaged knee cartilage. That work also was funded by a grant from NFL Charities.