Stem-cell research looks at ways to integrate cells

Dr Thomas Koch
Dr Thomas Koch

Scientists who pioneered equine stem cell research are looking into ways of integrating cell-repaired cartilage with the underlying bone and adjacent normal healthy cartilage.

Researchers are looking at sophisticated matrices and scaffolds, as well as a technique known as mosaic arthroplasty.

Canadian and Danish researchers were the first to source equine umbilical cord blood for regenerative medicine.

The interest in the potential application of this research was clearly indicated by the massive number of downloads which occurred within two weeks of the first report published, in 2007 ―more than 3500.

“The long-term goal is to find new treatment modalities for diseases and conditions where there currently are no good treatment modalities,” says Dr Thomas Koch, who researches joint cartilage repair at Aarhus University, in Denmark, and the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

The successful isolation of cells from equine umbilical cord blood for regenerative purposes put Guelph on the map in the field of equine stem cell research.

In his latest research, Koch was able to isolate mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) for potential cartilage repair using a  simple, non-invasive procedure.

Umbilical cord blood is obtained at the time of foaling by clamping the cord and collecting the blood into a transfusion bag.

Once at the lab, this blood is then put into a plastic container and then the cells, which “love plastic”, show their potential for regenerative research. Any unwanted floating cells are easily removed from the container because the desirable MSC cells actually adhere to the plastic and multiply.

Koch can then create cartilage from these cells in the lab.

Studies for maintaining cells at the injury site are ongoing. The complication is integrating cell-repaired cartilage with the underlying bone and adjacent normal healthy cartilage.

Koch is investigating sophisticated matrices and scaffolds as well as a technique known as mosaic arthroplasty. In mosaic arthroplasty, a number of plugs consisting of both cartilage and bone are placed in the cartilage and bone defect in a cobblestone pattern, hence the name mosaic.

Pioneered by Dr Mark Hurtig, from the University of Guelph, this option, although technically difficult, may allow a better integration between cartilage and bone.

Using umbilical cord blood cells to make bone cells and cartilage cells has earned Koch’s research international recognition.

The application for bone healing in fracture and cartilage repair is promising. Now researchers are working on better ways of differentiating undifferentiated cells into cartilage cells so there will be enough cells for therapy.

Koch is employed by the Orthopedic Research Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark and funded by the Danish Research Agency for Technology, Production and Innovation. Additional operating funds are provided through the Grayson Research Foundation of Lexington, Kentucky; BioE Inc. of Minnesota; SentrX Animal Care Inc. of Utah; the Morris Animal Foundation in the US; and the Equine Guelph Research Fund.

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