A Marie Curie Action (MCA) played a pivotal role in progressing the careers of two young medical researchers, bringing new hope of speedy recovery to millions of future sufferers of knee cartilage damage, and enabling a medical start-up company based in the Netherlands to develop a ground-breaking cartilage-repair technology and speed up its progress towards clinical trials and the eventual prospect of commercialisation.
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At the heart of the project, entitled CelluCart, was the concept of 'Cellular Cartilage Instruction', a technique discovered by a development-stage orthopaedic company in the Netherlands called CellCoTec. The technique is based on the observed capability of healthy cartilage cells, taken from the patient's own body, to interact with stem cells taken from the patient's bone marrow, to 'instruct' the formation of new cartilage tissue.
In the words of the CelluCart project co-ordinator, Dr Jens Riesle, who is also CellCoTec's Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Director, the Marie Curie Fellowship, designed to attract and support the mobility of talented young researchers, was 'a very helpful step' in the successful development of the Cellular Cartilage Instruction process.
Granted under the Transfer of Knowledge scheme, with the specific aim of fostering strategic partnerships between industry and academia, the €164,000 Marie Curie Fellowship was the key to an important piece of collaboration between CellCoTec and the Department of Surgery at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland.
The Marie Curie Action enabled CellCoTec to employ a scientist who spent a year on secondment at University Hospital Basel, acquiring knowledge of effective cell sources, while a researcher from Basel was able to spend a period working within CellCoTec and subsequently transfer knowledge about Cellular Cartilage Instruction back to University Hospital Basel.
The two Marie Curie-funded scientists played lead roles in the central piece of research which allowed the technique of Cellular Cartilage Instruction to move ahead. The key issue to resolve had been the need to establish which particular types of cartilage cells (articular or nasal) and which particular types of stem cells (bone marrow or adipose tissue) were the optimal combination to achieve new cartilage tissue generation. The work of the two researchers, with others, provided the verification that articular cartilage cells and bone marrow stem cells provided the most effective combination.
The results of the research were published in a paper in the Journal of Cellular Physiology in February 2011, entitled Enhanced Chondrocyte Proliferation and Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Chondrogenesis in Coculture Pellets Mediate Improved Cartilage Formation, with the two researchers, Chitrangada Acharya and Adetola Adesida, named as lead authors.
The Cellular Cartilage Instruction technique has been granted a series of patents in Europe, the USA and Australia and is now undergoing a 30-patient clinical trial following a successful 10-patient pilot clinical trial which was completed in 2011.
Following on from the success of the CelluCart project, Adetola Adesida has been appointed Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Alberta, Canada, and Chitrangada Acharya is now a Post Doctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center at Sacramento.
At CellCoTec, Dr Riesle looks back on the outcomes of CelluCart, not only in terms of the practical benefits it brought to his company, but also in terms of the scientific outcome, the knowledge exchange, and – not least - the ultimate benefits to knee cartilage patients. 'It really was a win-win situation,' he concludes.