6. To understand endogenous stem cell behaviour in the context of targeted molecular approaches of joint surface repair
Osteoarthritis causes breakdown of cartilage and bone, leading to joint failure. In this disease, stem cells in the joint fail to repair cartilage. An attractive treatment option is the development of drugs that modify the function of the stem cells to help them maintain healthy joints, and repair damaged ones. This relies on a better understanding of the functional abilities and behaviours of stem cells in joint health and disease.
We have discovered that the membrane surrounding the cavity of joints such as the knee, which is called synovium, contains special stem cells. These stem cells originate from structures in the embryo, the joint interzones, which form the joints. Our experiments show that in adult mice, these stem cells are able to repair joints after injury. Moreover, we have made the exciting discovery that, under specific experimental conditions, these stem cells from the synovium of an adult human knee can even orchestrate the formation of a completely new joint. Altogether, our data in mouse and human indicate that special stem cells in adult synovium, which descend from the joint interzones of the embryo, have a memory of how to maintain, repair or even form a joint. We are working to develop ways to target these cells in the joint with drugs so that we can maintain healthy joints and prevent osteoarthritis.