A €6 million collaborative project to develop novel treatments for bone and joint diseases using adult bone-marrow stem cells has been launched by the Smith & Nephew (S&N) Research Centre in the UK and Ireland’s Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI).

The project, which is backed by the Irish government’s industrial development agency, IDA Ireland, was launched in REMEDI’s home base, Galway, by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin. The Institute, which is part of the National University of Ireland, Galway, has extensive experience in novel approaches to, and processes for, the medical use of stem cells, the new partners noted.

The Smith & Nephew Research Centre in York, UK has already developed early prototype cell technologies, including the ability to grow human cartilage from adult stem cells. The collaboration with REMEDI taps into the latter’s expertise in osteoarthritis cartilage repair and is designed to accelerate development of viable new orthopaedic therapies to promote regrowth of healthy cartilage and repair damaged joints in conditions such as osteoarthritis.

The four-year project will be led by James Huckle, programme manager for enabling technologies at the Smith & Nephew Research Centre, and Professor Frank Berry, scientific director of REMEDI and a leading expert in adult stem cell engineering.

Current treatments for osteoarthritis, which afflicts more than 100 million people worldwide, focus largely on pain management and eventual replacement of the affected knee or hip joint, the partners noted.

As Peter Arnold, group director of technology for S&N, pointed out, there are currently no regenerative options for treating osteoarthritis and similar musculoskeletal conditions. Stem cell therapies “would be particularly beneficial for younger patients, who often spend many years on high doses of painkillers before receiving a joint replacement”, he commented.