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Newts shed light on possible ways of stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis

Trying to develop effective stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis, the researchers at the University of York have studied the astonishing capacity of newts to regenerate lost tissues and organs and adapted it for human research. The results of the study have been published in Nature Scientific Reports.

As the treatment to prevent the progression of osteoarthritis is lacking, people with severe disease often can count only on total joint replacement surgery. However, their bone marrow contains stem cells which can be used for potential treatment as they can generate many types of boy tissues, including joint tissue. Such tissue will not rejected by the patient’s body when re-implanted.

But as we age, the number of stem cells in our bodies decreases and those that remain are less able to repair tissue. The scientists from the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre at the University of York department of biology have found way to rejuvenate cells taken from older osteoarthritis patients in order to repair their worn or damaged cartilage. To do this, they learnt a lesson from the nature, in particular, from newts.

Newts’ cells change in response to injury, or dedifferentiate. The cells return to a stem cell-like state and aggregate - this allows them to replicate and generate the specialised cells needed for tissue restoration.


However, this form of tissue regeneration does not occur in humans, so the researchers had to create similar conditions in the laboratory for human cells. The scientists reverted cells to an embryonic state – the process in which the cells eat their own constituents and reduce their size under the use of certain pharmaceuticals – and cultivated the spheroid cell clusters in tiny cavities.

Using this technique, the researchers have shown that human cells can also be dedifferentiated to an early embryonic stage. Dedifferentiated stem cells then can generate new tissues instead of damaged ones. However, more work is needed to make this process more efficient and stimulate tissue repair right in the damaged joint.