The world's first stem cell therapy to repair torn cartilage in the knee has been brought one step closer.
Professor Anthony Hollander, co-founder of University of Bristol spin-out Azellon Cell Therapeutics, has just received funding of £65,000 to carry out clinical trials on the use of a patient's own stem cells for knee repair.
More than 900,000 Europeans a year suffer from tears in the meniscal cartilage, which stops the knee bones rubbing together, usually through sports-related injuries. Current treatment options are limited to surgery, with partial or total removal of the meniscus. However, there is a high risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee within five to eight years of surgery, which eventually requires total knee replacement.
The bandage, which is grown from the patient's own stem cells, is put in place within two weeks of harvesting the cells from the bone marrow using a simple surgical procedure. It is hoped these stem cells will heal the tear.
'With permission for a trial from Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and completion of this funding round, we are now ready to get going on our safety trial; it's an important moment for Azellon and for stem cell research', explained Professor Hollander.
The funding for the current trial has been obtained from Mr Hugh Osmond, a current partner of Sun Capital who has helped set up Pizza Express. 'As a keen sportsman who has had multiple knee operations myself, I believe that this procedure has the potential to be a major breakthrough in treating knee and eventually other joint injuries', he said. 'For many of the 1.7 million people a year who have operations to repair torn knee cartilage, it could be the difference between an active old age or spending their pension years in a wheel chair. I am very excited'.
Laboratory tests have been very promising, and the phase I clinical trial, which received MHRA approval in June, will test the stem cell bandage on ten patients, primarily to investigate its safety, but to also determine if it works in humans.
The trial, which will take place at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, is scheduled to begin May 2012, with interim results being released after 18 months. Professor Hollander was part of the team who successfully transplanted the first tissue-engineered windpipe into a Colombian woman in July 2011.
Other partners in the venture are Oxford Technology Management and IP Group plc. 'Azellon's stem cell bandage is targeted at a very large and growing market with a clear medical need and we are pleased to support the company as it moves into its Phase I/IIa trial', said Alan Aubrey, chief executive officer of IP Group.