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Researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Find Stem Cells From Muscle Can Repair Cartilage Damage

Results of animal study are published in the February 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh have genetically engineered muscle-derived stem cells that are capable of repairing damage to cartilage from injury or illness, an approach that one day might lead to a treatment for everything from sports injuries to debilitating arthritis.

Previous studies have researched the use of stem cells from bone marrow to repair cartilage damage, but this is the first to use enriched stem cells from muscle. Using muscle-derived stem cells is an important approach because obtaining stem cells from muscle requires a muscle biopsy, which is less invasive than other methods. Also, because the stem cells would be coming from the patient's own muscle, there would be no concerns over rejection.

The research was led by Johnny Huard, PhD, director of the Growth and Development Laboratory at Children's. Results of the study are published in the February 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

In Dr. Huard's lab, researchers divided 36 12-week-old rats with knee joint damage into three groups. The first group was treated with muscle-derived stem cells embedded in fibrin glue. The second group was treated with muscle-derived stem cells cultured from 3-week-old rats and genetically engineered to express a therapeutic protein known as bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP-4). The third group, the control group, was treated with fibrin glue.

Results of the study show that the second group, treated with BMP-4, showed significant cartilage repair at eight, 12 and 24 weeks following surgery. The muscle-derived stem cells showed a propensity for differentiating into chondrogenic cells (cells that develop into cartilage). The other two groups did not show as much improvement initially, and by 24 weeks the cartilage improvement had deteriorated.

"This suggests that using muscle-derived stem cells engineered with the therapeutic protein BMP-4 enhanced the cartilage healing," said Dr. Huard, an associate professor in the departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the Department of Bioengineering at the university's School of Engineering. "The use of the fibrin glue enabled the stem cells to more effectively settle in the damaged area."

Dr. Huard is one of the world's top cell biologists researching the potential therapeutic use of stem cells. He currently is working with a population of stem cells he discovered while searching for a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that is estimated to affect one in every 3,500 boys.

Dr. Huard's laboratory also is investigating the use of stem cells to repair injured muscle following sports-related injuries, as well as to treat bladder dysfunction and cardiac, joint and bone injuries. His work with these stem cells has potential implications ranging from repairing heart muscle damaged by heart attack or disease to the prevention of rejection during organ and tissue transplantation.

Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-7919 or 412-692-5016,
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5502 or 412-692-5016,

Last Update
February 18, 2008
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Last Update
February 18, 2008