How ‘smart’ stem cells could lead to arthritis vaccine

Researchers have modified mouse stem cells to combat the kind of inflammation that arthritis and other conditions cause. The stem cells may one day be used in a vaccine that would fight arthritis and other chronic inflammation conditions in humans, a new paper suggests.

Such stem cells, known as SMART cells (Stem cells Modified for Autonomous Regenerative Therapy), develop into cartilage cells that produce a biologic anti-inflammatory drug that, ideally, will replace arthritic cartilage and simultaneously protect joints and other tissues from damage that occurs with chronic inflammation.

Researchers initially worked with skin cells from the tails of mice and converted those cells into stem cells. Then, using the gene-editing tool CRISPR in cells grown in culture, they removed a key gene in the inflammatory process and replaced it with a gene that releases a biologic drug that combats inflammation. The research is available in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“Our goal is to package the rewired stem cells as a vaccine for arthritis, which would deliver an anti-inflammatory drug to an arthritic joint but only when it is needed,” says Farshid Guilak, the paper’s senior author and a professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. “To do this, we needed to create a ‘smart’ cell.”

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