• Article
  • November 2, 2017

Scientists Rewire Cells to Create Arthritis Vaccine

New SMART cell method provides hope for improved treatment of chronic conditions in kids and adults.

Using a new gene-editing technology, researchers at Shriners Hospitals for Children-St. Louis and Washington University School of Medicine have rewired living cells to produce a targeted arthritis-fighting vaccine. These stem cells modified for autonomous regenerative therapy (SMART cells) could offer more targeted treatment options for children and adults with inflammatory and chronic conditions.

Unlike current arthritis medications that are administered continuously and at high doses, these SMART cells can sense arthritis inflammation in a particular joint and make their own natural antidote to combat it, as needed.

The senior author of a study highlighting the work, published in Stem Cell Reports, says children with juvenile arthritis could benefit significantly as many of the current treatment options cause unwanted side effects and may not be appropriate for children. "Our goal is to deliver a therapy that is self-regulating and targeted specifically to inflammation in a particular joint, as opposed to current drug therapies that impact the immune response throughout the entire body," says Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., director of research for the St. Louis Shriners Hospital and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.

To date, SMART cells have only been engineered in a lab using cells from mice. While human clinical trials are a few years away, the SMART cell method could also revolutionize treatments for many other conditions.

"The hope is that we can grow living bone, cartilage and whole joints that are resistant to arthritis and eventually other inflammatory diseases too," says Guilak. "This could help adults and children suffering from juvenile, rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis, as well as other orthopaedic conditions."

Last year, a Shriners Hospitals' research team lead by Guilak created a living tissue hip joint replacement for patients currently receiving synthetic replacement joints that eventually wear out. This advancement is key for children who need replacement joints since a living joint could grow with the child. SMART cell technology is also being combined with this discovery to grow a living joint with these same disease-fighting properties.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.