Gates Institute researchers are at the forefront of potential breakthroughs in orthopedic medicine using an innovative array of regenerative medicine techniques. The potential treatments hold promise for common human conditions ranging from injured growth plates in children to arthritis or sports injuries in adults.

Research taking place in the Payne Regenerative Orthopedics Laboratory focuses on the development of functional regenerative medicine approaches for bone and cartilage tissues, with a particular interest in treating growth plate cartilage injuries affecting the pediatric population. Dr. Karin Payne, PhD, and her team are evaluating different potential treatments by combining stem cells, biomaterials, and 3D printing. Other active projects in the laboratory are related to enhancing bone formation during spinal fusion, as well as developing regenerative medicine approaches for post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

Growth plates are at the ends of long bones in children, made up of cartilage that allows for rapid growth and wide flexibility. When a limb is injured and circulation is altered, the plate can get infiltrated by new bone material that shuts down future growth. One treatment under animal trials in Payne’s lab uses a 3D printer to create an implant that can be infused with a biomaterial and stem cells that regenerate cartilage. Another potential treatment involves a gel infused with “recruitment factors” that draw in the patient’s stem cells to regenerate cartilage. Payne’s lab is a recipient of NIH funding for these studies, as well as Gates Grubstake Awards to help fund development of human treatments, and the CU Innovations SPARK program to promote translation of discoveries through the regulatory process into human trials.

“Our long-term goal is to translate these research efforts into the clinic to enhance growth plate cartilage regeneration and restore normal bone lengthening in affected children,” Payne has said. “The Grubstake award has helped us tremendously by leveraging more funding to get us closer to clinical translation,” Payne said.

Jason Dragoo, MD, Professor and Vice Chair of Academic Affairs and Director, UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver, is at work putting scientific and regulatory underpinnings beneath the stem cell therapies already being marketed to orthopedic patients across the nation.

“We start in the lab to understand how cells of orthopedic tissues respond to regenerative techniques -- cartilage cells, muscle cells, tendon cells -- and then figure out a recipe on how to make these cells turn into the tissues of interest,” Dragoo said. Tendinopathy, for example, is an early failure of tendon tissue. “How can we change cell machinery back to normal so that it can be placed back into the body to make a normal tendon?”

One of the techniques already in clinical trials with orthopedic patients uses fat tissue that is harvested, processed to increase the number of stem cells, and then placed back into the patient during the same surgery. In trials on cartilage regeneration, cartilage volume is precisely measured before and after treatment using MRI imaging.

What distinguishes the CU procedures from currently advertised community treatments is the research, Dragoo noted. “Our treatments are the result of years of preparatory research; we do our homework before we offer procedures to patients.” “The differentiating factor is that there are world leaders on campus who developed the actual techniques, and we are doing the actual treatments,” Dragoo said.

As the primary clinical trial site, they are still actively recruiting patients. For further information, please see: https://www.cudoctors.com/Find_A_Doctor/Profile/29605.

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