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The University of Southampton

Award for pioneering stem cell research to mend broken bones

Published: 22 May 2009

A new study led by scientists from the University of Southampton could allow the development of new and better treatments for broken bones and other orthopaedic problems associated with ageing.

Researchers at the University, working alongside colleagues from Keele, Imperial College London and Nottingham universities, will combine stem cell science and tissue engineering to look at the development and repair of human skeletal tissue.

Funding of £4 million has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for the research.

Fractures, bone loss due to trauma or disease and other orthopaedic conditions pose a significant clinical and socioeconomic problem, especially with an ageing population, but as yet there is no large scale effective treatment for replacing or repairing damaged bones.

Professor Richard Oreffo, from the University’s School of Medicine, is leading the study. He said: "Despite intense research, significant challenges for the reconstruction of tissues such as bone remain. Bone and cartilage tissue repair is a highly complex development process. A key requirement for these regeneration strategies to succeed remains our ability to understand skeletal cell activity, develop appropriate scaffolds and to understand how the environment the cells find themselves in affects their ability to interact with other cells to form new bone or cartilage."

Over the next five years, the scientists will combine their expertise in skeletal stem cells, scaffolds (which is a material structure on which cells grow) and the physical environment to identify the key growth factors, matrix proteins and physical conditions that will enhance tissue regeneration and ultimately lead to more effective skeletal repair strategies.

"We believe a paradigm shift in approach is required if we are to lead internationally in regenerative medicine. Our findings of how stem cells, scaffolds and the physical environment can be combined to induce new bone and cartilage will be used to augment and accelerate bone repair. This will allow us to develop new regimes for cartilage and bone regeneration ultimately leading to more effective treatments" explained Professor Oreffo.

Commenting on the award, Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "Fractures, particularly among older people, are a major cause of morbidly and mortality, and costs the NHS billions of pounds each year. This truly multidisciplinary approach to the basic research necessary to improve our scientific understanding opens up exciting possibilities in the area of skeletal development and repair, an area where advancement is becoming increasingly urgent on both a quality of life and an economic level as our population gets older."

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