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The University of Southampton
Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells and RegenerationResearch themes

Modelling bone development in the lab

By culturing whole chick femurs in a controlled environment allows us to assess the function of key biological signals in the formation of bone (stained red) and cartilage (stained blue).
Chick femur

Laboratory or “ex vivo” models are crucial tools in understanding how bone and cartilage tissue develops, and enable the testing of potential clinical therapies for regenerating and replacing bone lost or damaged through injury or disease.

In collaboration with Alicia Al Haj (University of Keele), Kevin Shakesheff (University of Nottingham) and Molly Stevens (Imperial College, London) we have developed a means to sustain and grow whole embryonic chick femurs, and have used this model to characterise the development of bone and cartilage. In addition, these techniques allow us to assess the function in bone and cartilage formation of key biological signalling molecules, including vitamin D, TGF-β3, PTH and PTHrP. These studies could provide important insights into bone diseases and the potential of these molecules to enhance bone growth and repair.

The addition of vitamin D to the environment of a growing femur enhances bone formation.
Vitamin D


Kanczler JM, Smith EL, Roberts CA, Oreffo RO. A Novel Approach for Studying the Temporal Modulation of Embryonic Skeletal Development Using Organotypic Bone Cultures and Microcomputed Tomography.Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2012 May 21.

Smith EL, Kanczler JM, Roberts CA, Oreffo RO. Developmental cues for bone formation from parathyroid hormone and parathyroid hormone-related protein in an ex vivo organotypic culture system of embryonic chick femora. Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2012 Jun 12.

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