Regenerative medicine is a fast-moving, interdisciplinary field, looking for ways to repair or replace parts of the body that are diseased or damaged. Now there’s an established and growing UK research community, we’re changing the way we fund this type of research. Two researchers explain why our continued support for this field – from the early discovery stage to translation into the clinic – will help deliver life-changing treatments for currently incurable conditions.
Adult stem cells from the tissue lining the human knee joint, grown in a dish. These cells can repair
damaged cartilage and are being trialled in the clinic. Individual stem cells are labelled with different fluorescent colours. Image credit: Nathan White, University of Aberdeen.
MRC scientists and researchers from Cambridge University’s Veterinary School gave half the dogs in the trial cells called olfactory ensheathing cells, which support the growth and guidance of neurons, from their own noses. The other half received a placebo. The researchers say the injected cells stimulated the growth of a ‘bridge’ between the damaged and undamaged parts of the spinal cords.
The work could help people with similar injuries one day, though the researchers are keen to stress that this would be as part of a package of treatments alongside drug or physical therapies. While the results in dogs have been significant, it’s difficult to tell how effective the treatment will be in people, because we don’t have four legs to rely on.
Here’s a video of Jasper, one of the dogs who received cells, showing off his renewed walking skills on a treadmill. Jasper’s owners used to need a sling to support his back legs but “now we can’t stop him whizzing round the house and he can even keep up with the two other dogs we own. It’s utterly magic”, says his owner May.