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New Therapies for Osteoarthritis

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An Interview with Dr. Denis Evseenko, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, University of Southern California

Brought up in an academic family, where both parents were involved in science, Denis tells us that he “was always attracted to this unique opportunity of creating new knowledge, especially in experimental medicine”. This is perhaps a strong part of what led him to forge a career in scientific research. After moving from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, to California in 2007, Denis focused his research efforts on stem cells. During this time, California became one of the world hubs of stem cell research, approving special funding for stem cell research and regenerative medicine. This “offered a unique opportunity for scientists to create new stem cell based therapies”, Denis states.

Work in the Evseenko lab focuses on forming a bridge between basic studies of early embryogenesis, stem cell biology, and the clinically relevant application of stem cell and small molecule-based therapies for post-traumatic and degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis.

Denis notes that some of his most rewarding achievements to date have been the ability to “invent several novel prospective therapeutic candidates for arthritis, including new drugs and new cell-based therapies and validate them with great success in preclinical models”. 

Current therapies for osteoarthritis mainly offer temporary alleviation of pain caused by the degeneration of the articular cartilage in the joints. In more advanced stages, highly invasive surgery is often the only option to maintain mobility.

Denis’ work will hopefully lead this to change in the future. His lab was recently awarded a $2.5 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to develop new osteoarthritis therapies. Building on previous work, Denis proposes to regenerate cartilage using pluripotent stem cells. The process will involve the maintenance and banking of large quantities of cryopreserved pluripotent stem cell (PSC)-derived chondrocytes, to create a store of cells that can later be implanted into the joint.

Unlike current therapies, this therapy has the advantage of offering “a long term solution due to regeneration of damaged cartilage tissue with stem cells,” Denis says.

To follow progress of this work and other research from Denis’ lab, please visit https://evseenkolab.usc.edu/research/ 

Denis was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks.