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Easing pain of arthrists; RESEARCHERS in Tyneside are working on a new medical advancement for early osteoarthritis. Health Reporter HELEN RAE takes a look at how the pioneering treatment is expected to go from the bench to the bedside within five years.

Byline: HELEN RAE

PATIENTS with osteoarthritis will benefit from pioneering research carried out in the region.

Newcastle University and Arthritis Research UK are spearheading a pounds 6m experimental tissue engineering centre which hopes to regenerate bone and cartilage by using a patient's stem cells to repair damage caused by the degenerative joint disease.

YesterdayToon legend Alan Shearer unveiled a plaque to mark the start of the research.

He said: "Launching this research centre is my way of trying to give something back to the region.

"When you look at what fantastic facilities we have here in the North East's hospitals and universities, it shows how well we're doing and it makes me very proud of the region."

The exploratory research has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of osteoarthritis, which causes pain and disability to as many as eight million people in the UK.

Treatments for early osteoarthritis are usually limited to non-surgical options, such as pain-killers and physiotherapy. Patients undergo joint replacement operations but only when the disease has deteriorated.

Within five years, researchers aim to treat early cases of the condition by introducing adult stem cells and other types of cell into damaged joints and repairing damage through key-hole surgery. If successful, they hope to perform this as day surgery.

Other long-term aims include finding a way to "switch on" stem cells already present in patient's joints. Researchers hope to develop an 'off the peg' bank of universal donor cells for use with any patient, making treatment cheaper and more widely available. Prof Andrew McCaskie, centre director and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Newcastle University's Institute of Cellular Medicine and the Freeman Hospital, is leading the studies in the region.

He said: "We have got pioneering research being led in the region and we are delighted to have the support of Alan Shearer. "We are proud of the work being done into osteoarthritis and our aim is to treat the condition at an earlier stage so that the human body is able to repair itself.

"Keyhole and minimally invasive operations for early arthritis have been in development for some years and we propose to improve upon these techniques and work towards more widely available treatments."

Former athlete Manuel Bello-Canno was left unable to compete as a hurdler when diagnosed with the condition four years ago.

He became an amateur hurdler, reaching the top 100 in Spain and winning Silver at the 2005 World Masters Athletics Championships in Donostia, Spain. After experiencing increasing pain and loss of mobility in his groin during and after training for more than three years, Mr Bello-Canno was referred to Newcastle's Freeman Hospital where surgeons discovered he was suffering from early osteoarthritis.

The 41-year-old, of North Shields, said: "The research being done in Newcastle is a very exciting development. It is great to know that research may help prevent people like me needing joint replacements in the future."

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK said: "This early experimental work is the first step on a journey that could significantly reduce the need for joint replacement operations.

It's hugely exciting."

Body of work IN Newcastle, Prof Andrew McCaskie, with colleagues Prof Kenny Dalgarno, Prof Anne Dickinson and Dr Mark Birch will focus on: * Assessment of the stem cells from the same and a different donor and their interaction with new biomaterials for regenerative use.

Enabling the technologies to be translational to the clinic by the use of Good Manufacturing Practices in their dedicated facilities. * Investigating the manufacture of 3D matrices to support bone and cartilage regeneration.

The team will engineer new scaffold materials that fulfil the mechanical demands of tissue replacement surgery and also devise approaches to deliver chemical or growth factor cues that can control the rebuilding of bone and cartilage.

CAPTION(S):

DELIGHTED Professor Andrew McCaskie EXCITING MOVE Alan Shearer at Newcastle University with Professor Alan Silman of Arthitis Research UK
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 7, 2011
Words:651
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