The work is led by Dr Scott Roberts, whose research interest is focused on the mechanisms that control skeletal homeostasis, with an emphasis on manipulating the signalling pathways to enhance the ability of stem cells to coordinate skeletal tissue repair.
Dr Roberts joins the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the RVC having worked at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) in Leuven (Belgium). He has also researched this topic as Principal Investigator at University College London and as Senior Principal Scientist at UCB Pharma.
Cartilage plays a vital role in the joint, providing a smooth lubricated surface, reducing friction, and absorbing shock during movement. However, its ability to repair itself is extremely limited. Damage to the cartilage often progresses to osteoarthritis. There is also currently no approved evidence-driven therapy for the treatment of this disease.
The new gene therapy research programme in osteoarthritis will be undertaken in partnership with the Vaccinology and Cell Therapy Hub at the RVC. The Hub – with its close connections to both scientists and veterinary clinicians – is also well-placed to take the science from bench-to-bedside and facilitate clinical trials in veterinary patients. This will include horses at the Equine Referral Hospital, and dogs and cats at the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals at the RVC.
Dr Roberts said: “This research has the potential to change the way that we approach degenerative joint disease and I am delighted to have access to the Vaccinology and Cell Therapy Hub while we undertake this work. We hope that this science will lead to a ground-breaking treatment for osteoarthritis in animals, and eventually humans.”
In addition to osteoarthritis, Dr Roberts’ research aims to create regenerative therapeutics for non-healing bone fractures. This is based on a comprehensive understanding of tissue development, as tissue repair is now regarded as a re-emergence of embryonic signalling cascades. Dr Roberts has used knowledge in this area to identify developmentally inspired methodologies to create laboratory grown tissue implants that have the capacity to drive bone fracture repair.