In July, we reported on Dr. Farshid Guilak’s remarkable breakthrough in orthopedic and osteoarthritis research. That research found a way to grow new cartilage on a hip joint shaped scaffold, using stem cells. His current Arthritis Foundation-funded project, “Engineering New Biologic Therapies for Arthritis,” is just as trailblazing.
Dr. Guilak is working on an “arthritis vaccine.” It’s a way to deliver customized drug treatment and cell repair through the use of a biologic product.
His current research has created smart stem cells. “Stem cells don’t target specific areas,” said Dr. Guilak. “We are (genetically) reprogramming stem cells to do what we want them to.”
According to Dr. Guilak, the genetically created smart stem cells identify inflamed cells. Once the inflamed cells are identified, the smart stem cells incorporate themselves, not only to repair damaged cartilage, but also to produce and deliver specific therapeutic drugs to stop the inflammation. The smart stem cells are programmed to be active only when and where inflammation is present.
He explained that this application is currently aimed at inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and that the advantage of using smart stem cells is that they can be individually designed to deliver just the right amount of therapy, instead of a constant, long-term exposure to very strong anti-inflammatory drugs. Dr. Guilak said that the smart stem cells will stop the inflammation and repair damaged cells at the same time. For his next steps with this technology, Dr. Guilak wants to work on sciatic and JIA applications for smart stem cells. “The inflammatory processes are different for these diseases than RA,” he explained. “So we need to adjust the programming.”
Highly committed to the arthritis community and finding cures, in his spare time Dr. Guilak enjoys taking part in the foundation’s Jingle Bell Run. His team has won awards for fundraising and best team costumes in the past. A big Star Wars fan, last year he and his team took on a Star Wars theme. His humor and dedication were obvious when he played “Darth-ritis” at last year’s event!
Dr. Guilak and his team have also taken part in some of our Juvenile Arthritis conferences by teaching sessions to explain arthritis and the importance of research. They had kids of all ages use gels to create cartilage for a hands-on understanding of how things work. His team also used “Cure E. Us” the mouse to explain lab research.
Dr. Guilak is a professor at Washington University Department of Orthopedic Surgery and is Director of Research for Shriners Hospitals for Children in St. Louis. He is also the co-director of the Washington University Center of Regenerative Medicine and has appointments in the Departments of Developmental Biology and Biomedical Engineering.
We thank Dr. Guilak and all of our researchers for the amazing, innovative and truly inspiring work that they do day in and day out. To read more about our researchers, check out these past articles:
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. Markus Wimmer
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. Herb Sun
- Researchers on the Path to a Cure – Spotlight on Dr. Hongsik J. Cho