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New lab to help develop stem cell use in regenerative medicine

11 July 2019

A new lab that aims to develop new techniques using stem cells to create alternative treatment options for bone and tissue degenerative conditions, such as arthritis, has opened at Canterbury Christ Church University.

SCRABEL, the Stem Cell Research and Bio-Engineering Laboratory, has moved to a new location on the University’s Medway Campus. Started by the University in 2015 as part of the Institute for Medical Sciences, the newly fitted lab will help to deliver quicker results, with increased accuracy, for research projects in advanced regenerative medicine.

Dr Richard Webb, Research Scientist for SCRABEL, said: “The NHS has identified key challenges it will face in the near future due to an aging population. One of those is the substantial cost conditions like arthritis will have upon the NHS budget due to a rise in the number of older people needing hip or knee replacements.

"Arthritis UK estimate that from now to 2030 the cost to the NHS for people with arthritis needing hip or knee replacement could rise from £3.4 billion to £18.6 billion. Stem cell treatments, like those we are working on, could provide an alternative, cheaper and quicker recovery option for 1000s of people.”

The new equipment in the lab will enable academics to use a one-step (one-day) approach to gene regulation, the process by which specific gene products (protein or DNA/RNA) is extracted to identify how stem cells develop and interact with their environment. Most labs use a two-step (which can take up to two-days) approach for gene regulation. The one-step approach helps to speed-up the research process with the aim of increasing the accuracy of results as well. By only using a one-step approach, the level of human interaction is reduced and so minimises the potential for human error.

Dr Webb said: “The reduction in the time it takes to produce the stem cell samples will also allow for more experiments to take place, increasing the amount of results. Research is a number game. The more samples we are able to produce, the more experiments can take place; the more results we receive the stronger the research is and we will be able to identify and see trends in larger numbers, which in turn will help us to a better understanding of how the stem cells are interacting and changing towards a regenerated tissue.”

In August the lab will receive a new 3D bio-printer, and a member of the lab team will travel to Utrecht to receive training for its use.

The bio-printer will open-up another new avenue of research for the team as it will offer the opportunity of examining stem cells in 3D. Traditional tissue culture is 2D, the 3D bio-printer will give a more realistic representation of the body, as well as show how stem cells interact with each other and adjacent cells and the impact that has upon the stem cell and so enabling the researchers to tailor make conditions that mimic the body when regenerARING .

The lab will also able to isolate stem cells from fat tissue, bone marrow, the fluid from around the knee and the hip, as well as cartilage, ligaments and muscle.

Dr Webb explained: “This type of isolation is important as up until now we have only been looking at how we can engineer stem cells from diseased areas within the bone or cartilage to help with repair. We will now be able to take healthy stem cells from fat tissue and compare how the diseased stem cells from the bone marrow or fluid react to treatment compared to the stem cells from fat tissue which hasn’t been exposed to the disease state. We can then identify which stem cells are best to use for the treatment of the disease via our 3D modelling.

“These advances in the way we use stem cells have the potential to provide the answers to many diseases and help the NHS with future challenges of aging population. The work we are doing, although in early stages, and probably won’t be available as a therapeutic treatment for 15-20 years, but stem cells do have the possibility to offer a feasible treatment option to diseases such as arthritis.”

Peter Milburn, Director of the Institute of Medical Sciences commented: “The research and innovation work being undertaken by medical research staff within the Stem Cell Facility provide the opportunity for the Institute of Medical Sciences to support the discovery and development of new surgical techniques, procedures or models of care which in future years may transform patient outcomes and care”.

Notes to editor

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with 16,000 students across Kent and Medway. Its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • Over 94% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.

*2015/16 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education surve. 

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Last edited: 09/08/2019 11:43:00