Over 20 million people in Europe suffer from osteoarthritis which can lead to extensive damage to the knee and hip cartilage. Stem cells offer a promising way forward but a key challenge has been to design a 'smart material' that is biologically effective for cartilage tissue regeneration. Now researchers have identified a blend of naturally occurring fibres such as cellulose and silk that makes progress towards affordable and effective cell-based therapy for cartilage repair a step closer.
The EPSRC-funded study, published in Biomacromolecules and undertaken by University of Bristol researchers, explored the feasibility of using natural fibres such as silk and cellulose as stem cell scaffolds – the matrix to which stem cells can cling to as they grow.
Both cellulose and silk are commonly used in textiles but the researchers demonstrated an unexpected use for the two natural polymers when mixed with stem cells. The team treated blends of silk and cellulose for use as a tiny scaffold that allows adult connective tissue stem cells to form into preliminary form of chondrocytes — the cells that make healthy tissue cartilage — and secrete extracellular matrix similar to natural cartilage.
Dr Wael Kafienah, lead author from the University's School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, said: "We were surprised with this finding, the blend seems to provide complex chemical and mechanical cues that induce stem cell differentiation into preliminary form of chondrocytes without need for biochemical induction using expensive soluble differentiation factors. This new blend can cut the cost for health providers and makes progress towards effective cell-based therapy for cartilage repair a step closer."
Dr Sameer Rahatekar, lead author from the University's Advanced Composite Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), added: "We used ionic liquids for the first time to produce cellulose and silk scaffolds for stem cells differentiation. These liquids are effective in dissolving biopolymers and are environmentally benign compared to traditional solvents used for processing of cellulose and silk."
The teams are currently working on the fabrication of 3D structures from the blend suitable for implantation in patient joints with future studies focusing on understanding the peculiar interactions between the blend and stem cells towards refining the quality of regenerated cartilage.
The EPSRC-funded study, entitled 'Directing Chondrogenesis of Stem Cells with Specific Blends of Cellulose and Silk' by Nandita Singh †, Sameer S. Rahatekar *‡, Krzysztof K. K. Koziol §, TH. Sky Ng †, Avinash J. Patil , Stephen Mann , Anthony P. Hollander †, and Wael Kafienah *† is published in Biomacromolecules.
†School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Bristol
‡Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol Centre for Organized Matter Chemistry, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol
§ Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk