A group of researchers headed by Farshid Guilak at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, rewired stem cells to fight inflammation caused by arthritis and other chronic conditions. Such stem cells also known as SMART cells (Stem cells Modified for Autonomous Regenerative Therapy) help in replacing arthritic cartilage and in protecting joints and other tissues from damage caused by inflammation.
Stem cells were developed using skin cells taken from the tails of mice. Thereafter, using CRISPR technology, a key gene in the inflammatory process was removed and then replaced by a gene that releases a biologic drug used to fight inflammation.
Existing Treatments for Arthritis
Existing drugs used to treat arthritis such as Enbrel, Humira and Remicade, can impact the immune system of the body, making patients prone to side effects. This new technology could be used for applying targeted therapy for localised inflammation in a joint opposed to drug therapies. Success of this strategy would mean that engineered cells would block inflammation on release of inflammatory signals during arthritic flare in the joint.
Using mice stem cells grown in a test tube, Guilak along with his colleagues applied CRISPR technology to replace mediator of inflammation with a TNF-alpha inhibitor. Dr. Jonathan Brunger, paper’s first author and postdoctoral fellow at University of California said that they found a way of re-coding the program used by stem cells for planning their response to inflammation.
Researchers not only encoded the stem/cartilage cells with genes that made the cells light up when responding to inflammation but also discovered inflammatory pathway to create cells that could produce a protective drug.
Future Potential of Research
If the work can be developed into a clinical therapy after replicating it in animals, cartilage grown from stem cells could respond to inflammation by releasing TNF-alpha inhibitor, which would protect the synthetic cartilage cells and the natural cartilage cells in specific joints. On seeing TNF-alpha, these cells activate a therapy that reduces inflammation.
This technique could be utilised for developing vaccine for treating arthritis by targeting inflammation in the joints. The ability to build living tissues from ‘smart’ stem cells could be used for further investigation in regenerative medicine.
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