Brussels, 10 Jun 2004
A consortium of 23 partners from ten European countries is to establish international scientific leadership on stem cell regenerative medicine in the field of connective tissue disorders using adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
The integrated project, Genostem, to be coordinated by Professor Christian Jorgensen from the French National Institute of Medical research (INSERM), will seek to demonstrate that adult MSCs make ideal building blocks for the engineering of bones, cartilage and ligaments.
MSCs are the multipotential progenitors that spawn skeletal cells (bones and tendons), muscles, fat tissue and blood supportive stromal cells.
'Over 50 million European citizens suffer from some form of connective tissue disorder. Age-related degenerative disorders (such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis) are among the diseases with the highest socio-economic impact, requiring hospitalisation, rehabilitation and home care. Both the increase in life expectancy and the post-war generation boom have lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from these diseases over the last few decades,' explained professor Jorgensen.
Genostem will focus on developing novel therapies and diagnoses for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, connective tissue disorders, bone disease and trauma associated pathologies.
Bone, cartilage and tendon, which are the key components of the structure and articulation in the body, have a limited capacity for self repair and, after a traumatic injury or disease, adult tissue often fails to regenerate. When organs or tissues are irreparably damaged, they can sometimes be replaced by an artificial device or donor organ. However, the number of available donor organs is critically limited. Thus, the alternative is to create organs or tissues in laboratories using tissue engineering with adult stem cells.
Genostem will be built around a 'bench to bedside' strategy with seven thematic areas, namely: isolation of mesenchymal stem cells; gene and protein characterisation; cell engineering; repair of cartilage tissue; repair of bone tissue; repair of tendon tissue and translation to the clinic.
'In a field in which ongoing treatment of chronically ill patients is expensive and unsatisfactory, it is critical to develop clinical solutions,' said Professor Jorgensen. 'There is the need to develop a European trans-national network to contribute to ensuring that a single standard for research, development, and safety considerations is adopted. It is very important to establish both the technological foundations for this kind of work and to assess the safety and feasibility of using such systems. The safety and efficacy of application of cell therapy will undoubtedly improve the health of citizens and should contribute to a reduction in health costs in the long run,' he added.
Another advantage of using adult MSCs, explained professor Jorgensen, is that they avoid the ethical debate presently raging in the EU and the US. Adult MSCs will be isolated from 'surgical waste' and samples will be obtained after consent from the patient.
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