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The University of Southampton

New study to evaluate how immune cells can help heal fractured bones

Published: 23 October 2020
fracture bone

Faculty researchers have been awarded new funding to evaluate how immune cells can be used with stem cells to repair bone fractures.

The study builds on a decade of work by the Bone Stem Cells group, which has proven how gels formed from clay particles can create environments at an injury site able to stimulate stem cells for repair.

This is driven by the ability of clay to adsorb proteins such as growth factors which activate stem cells.

In this new study, in partnership with Kyoto University in Japan, the team target immune cells known as macrophage, instead of stem cells. Macrophage cells are the ‘first responders’ at an injury site and are vital in making the transition from inflammation to repair.

The Southampton team, involving Dr Jon DawsonProfessor Richard Oreffo and Dr Yanghee Kim will evaluate how controlling the response of these cells at an injury can be used to promote the recruitment of stem cells and greatly accelerate the repair of bone fractures.  

Dr Dawson said: “Over the years we have developed synthetic nano-sized (1 millionth of a millimetre) clay particles that form injectable gels that set in the body. These protein-rich 'nanoclay gels' create environments favourable for stem cells to colonise and can be used to fuse bones and repair non-healing fractures with greater precision, safety and efficiency.

While very promising, there is a lot about this repair process that we do not yet understand. For example, we know that the response of cells of the immune-system will play a vital role in determining how the body responds to nanoclay in the first hours and days after injection.

Working with research group at Kyoto University, who are world-leaders in understanding and controlling this immune response to implanted materials, we will evaluate how immune cells and stem cells can be used together to promote bone repair.”

The study is being funded by a landmark collaboration between the Medical Research Council and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) to support collaborative projects that seek to advance regenerative approaches towards clinical use.

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