Cartilage made from genetically engineered stem cells could one day be used to deliver biologic drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
The technology has been tested only in the lab so far, but its creators say it may open up new treatments for any disease involving the malfunction of one of the body’s many feedback loops.
“We think it’s a whole new way of creating cell-based therapies,” says Farshid Guilak, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington Univ. in St. Louis.
Guilak and his colleagues are focused on autoimmune arthritis, a collection of debilitating joint disorders driven by out-of-control inflammation. These conditions can be treated by drugs called biologics, which mimic the proteins that the body uses to shut down inflammation. But biologics have to be delivered at high doses, often through intravenous treatments or injections, and they come with side effects like immunosuppression. A treatment that would only be activated when inflammation flared up would reduce the risk of such side effects.
“We wanted to make a stem cell that is actually ‘smart,’ that can release therapeutic molecules — basically biologic drugs — but only do it when they are needed,” Guilak says.
The researchers began with induced pluripotent stem cells — cells from the body that have...
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