Public Release: 

Bones from blood: Scientists aim to break new ground on fractures

University of York

Scientists at the University of York have launched a new research project which aims to develop ways of making bones from blood.

Researchers from the University's Department of Biology are heading the EC-backed project to create bone structures from cord blood stem cells for use in the repair of bone defects and fractures.

The three-year €2.5 million research project involves scientists in the UK and across Europe, as well as academics from the University of York's Departments of Sociology and Philosophy, who will carry out sociological and ethical evaluations of the work. The project will seek to find a viable new medical use for the two million units of cord blood banked in Europe, and currently used for transfusions and treating leukaemia.

Biologist Dr Paul Genever, who is co-ordinating the project, said: "The mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in cord blood appear similar to bone marrow stem cells but they are hard to locate. We aim to isolate and expand them so we have enough cells to use in therapies.

"We also want to compare them with bone marrow and embryonic stem cells and investigate how we can turn them into bone structures for use as 3D bone replacements."

Dr Genever said if the creation of bone structures from stem cells proves viable, it might be used for cell-based therapies to repair bone defects and fractures. Ultimately, bone structures developed in this way could be used to make hip replacements more durable.

"The participation of colleagues from Sociology and Philosophy in a project such as this offers the opportunity for us to explore a more ethically and socially integrated kind of biology," he added.

Professor Andrew Webster and Dr Nik Brown, of the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU) in the Department of Sociology, will link the scientific questions of MSC isolation and expansion to the wider environment and define potential barriers and areas of weakness in their use. They will consider questions such as safety and standards, commercial viability, potential investment, consensus amongst scientists and clinical distribution.

Dr Stephen Holland and Professor Tom Baldwin, of the Department of Philosophy, will carry out an ethical evaluation of the research. This will include making sure that the project is conducted according to the highest standards of research governance. They will also investigate how the project contributes to the debate about the ethics of stem cell research. In particular, they will consider how potential benefits of these stem cell therapies can be weighed against ethical concerns."


Notes for editors:
Dr. Paul Genever is a Lecturer in the Department of Biology and heads the Biomedical Tissue Research Group. Their work focuses on the biology of bone cells including the identification of new communication routes in the skeleton. The BTR Group is also interested in the use of adult stem cells from different human tissues and how they may be used for new therapies and tissue engineering applications.

Professor Andrew Webster's and Dr Nik Brown's work is focused on social science perspectives on medical and life science innovation. Both have recently secured grant funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for separate projects on stem cells.

Dr Stephen Holland and Professor Baldwin are experts in bioethics. Dr Holland teaches and researches Philosophical Bioethics, and Chairs the University's Department of Health Sciences' Research Governance Committee. Professor Thomas Baldwin is currently a member of the UK Stem Cell Bank Steering Committee and, until recently, was Deputy Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and served on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Project Partners:
Professor Moustapha Kassem, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, University Hospital of Odense, Denmark. •Professor Jens Andersen, Center, for Experimental Bioinformatics (CEBI), Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark. •Dr Hagen Thielecke, Biohybrid Systems Department, Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering, St. Ingbert, Germany •Dr Lee Buttery, Tissue Engineering Group, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham. •Dr Karen Bieback, Institute of Transfusion Medicine and Immunology, Faculty of Clinical Medicine Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany. •Dr Helder Cruz, ECBio- R&D in Biotechnology, Oeiras, Portugal. •Dr Robin Quirk, RegenTec Ltd, BioCity Nottingham, Nottingham

To arrange photographs, contact: David Garner, University of York Press Office, on 190-443-2153.

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