Toronto (May 11, 2015) – A team of scientists, led by Drs. Gordon Keller and April Craft from University Health Network's McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto has been able to generate articular chondrocytes and cartilage tissue from human pluripotent stem cells in a Petri dish.

Pluripotent stem cells have the potential to make most cell types in the body. In this study, the McEwen Center team identified, for the first time, the combination of factors that direct the human stem cells to specifically produce articular chondrocytes, the cells that make the cartilage that lines our joints.

They also showed that these chondrocytes can make cartilage tissue in the Petri dish.  With these advances, it is now possible to produce an unlimited supply of chondrocytes and cartilage tissue for studying how osteoarthritis develops and for creating new regenerative medicine-based therapies for treating patients with cartilage damage that would otherwise lead to joint replacement surgery.

The findings are reported in the co-authored paper, "Generation of articular chondrocytes from human pluripotent stem cells", published online today in Nature Biotechnology.

"Articular chondrocytes are found on the surface of the bones within the joints and provide the cushioning that deteriorates in osteoarthritis," explains Dr. Craft, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Boston Children's Hospital & Harvard Medical School. "If we can grow and use these chondrocytes to generate and maintain stable cartilage tissue, we have a tremendous opportunity to study the early events that lead to arthritis, to screen for new drugs to treat this disease, and to investigate how to use this cartilage to repair damaged joints."

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and affects one in 10 Canadian adults. There is no cure for OA and the only treatment for advanced OA is joint replacement surgery. Cartilage is an essential part of the joint; it absorbs the impact of movement and enables the joint to move smoothly. Osteoarthritic cartilage progressively deteriorates and eventually causes pain, stiffness, and swelling as a result of bone-on-bone movement in the affected joint.

"This is an exciting and encouraging first step in producing functional tissue for joint repair," says Dr. Keller, Director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine. "Working with our partners at Mount Sinai Hospital, the Arthritis Program at Toronto Western Hospital, and the University of Guelph, we are proceeding to transplant the stem cell-derived tissue into the joints of animal models to test its ability to repair damaged cartilage."

Funding was provided by generous donors including by Rob and Cheryl McEwen, the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Krembil Foundation, and Michael and Yetta Bregman in collaboration with the Campaign to Cure Arthritis, Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.

About McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine

The McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine was founded by Rob and Cheryl McEwen in 2003 and opened its doors in 2006. The McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, part of Toronto-based University Health Network, is a world leading centre for stem cell research, facilitating collaboration between renowned scientists from 5 major hospitals in Toronto, the University of Toronto and around the world. Supported by philanthropic contributions and research grants, McEwen Centre scientists strive to introduce novel regenerative therapies for debilitating and life threatening illnesses including heart disease, spinal cord injury, diabetes, diseases of the blood, liver and arthritis.

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