Funding awarded for mechanobiology research into osteoarthritis

10 June 2019

Queen Mary Researchers have been awarded funding for three separate biomechanics and mechanobiology pump priming projects.

Professors Hazel Screen and David Lee of the School of Engineering and Materials Science were awarded funding from the OAtech+ Network to develop projects relating to mechanobiology aimed at targeting the chronic, degenerative disease osteoarthritis (OA).

OA is characterised by destruction of the articular cartilage, the connective tissue covering the bone surfaces in your joints. However this disease affects the joint as a whole causing damage not only to the underlying bone but the surrounding tissues as well such as synovium, tendon and ligaments. It results in significant pain and loss of joint function. In the UK alone, almost 1/3 of people over the age of age of 45 (a total of 8.75 million people) have sought treatment for OA yet successful therapies do not exist.

Professor David Lee and Dr Hannah Heywood will assess the ability of mechanical stimuli to regulate circadian rhythms in cartilage cells.

An internal biological clock allows our body to co-ordinate according to whether it is day or night, creating 24h rhythms of biological function. This circadian clock needs environmental cues to set the time, which is known to be very important because loss of an appropriate circadian rhythm is linked to diseases including osteoarthritis. These studies will investigate the importance of mechanical stimuli in cartilage clock timing.

Professor Hazel Screen and Dr Clare Thompson will develop an organ-on-a-chip model of the synovium in collaboration with Professor Mauro Perretti of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Synovial inflammation is a risk factor for OA. This model focuses on the ability of the synovial cells to influence cartilage degradation in response to mechanical stimuli.This organ-on-a-chip model is a miniaturised device which can be used within the laboratory to investigate the cellular interactions between synovium and cartilage and test drugs in a high through put manner using human cells. It aims to revolutionise drug development and reduce the need for animal testing.

Furthermore, in collaboration with Prof Mandy Peffers of The University of Liverpool, Hazel Screen will explore how mechanical loading of the knee joint may influence ligament degeneration. Damage to the knee joint is known to lead to OA, however the biology of ligament injury remains very poorly understood.

These biomechanics and mechanobiology projects are part of the extensive, internationally-leading bioengineering research activity in the School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary University of London.
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Updated by: Martin Knight