Innovative technology and speedy science in Newcastle

Crack IT public engagement event in Newcastle

Our Head of Research Awards and Translation, Caroline Aylott shares an insight into the exciting osteoarthritis research happening as part of the CRACK IT award.

Last month I had the pleasure of opening a public engagement event organised by the CRACK IT team and our Tissue Engineering Centre. The event, held at Newcastle University, included a series of talks, interactive activities, speedy science (think science-themed speed dating), coffee and cake.

The CRACKIT award is funded by Versus Arthritis, alongside the NC3Rs, and is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. The ambition of the award is to develop a human cell based model that mimics osteoarthritis in the joint, for use in developing new drugs for osteoarthritis.

Award team member Shaheda Ahmed shared how the CRACK IT team are progressing in producing osteoarthritis on a chip, before handing over to Kenny Dalgarno, who introduced the audience to the world of 3D printing for joint replacements and new orthopedic medical devices, and how cell printing techniques can help produce cellular models of the osteoarthritic joint.

From our Tissue Engineering Centre, Rachel Crossland presented research looking at whether small molecules called extracellular vesicles, released from stem cells, could have the potential to regenerate tissue.

Then Sally Roberts demonstrated in her presentation what happens when proteoglycans (a type of protein) break down in the joint using a bag and several balloons. She also gave updates on the Versus Arthritis ASCOT study.

The final presentation was by Amy Anderson and Helen Hanson, who talked about their work with John Isaacs to develop a therapy that uses a person’s own dendritic cell (a type of white blood cell) to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

During the coffee breaks there were several interactive activities were on offer to try. The highlight seemed to be the virtual reality headset VR courtesy of the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles. This took wearers into the matrix of cells to visualize extracellular molecules being released from the cells. By moving your head around, you were able to peer into the depths of the matrix.

I was surprised to see how much space there was between cells in the animation. Despite knowing that the body is mainly water and having watched the classic 1980’s film Innerspace, I’d always visualised the body to be what I saw in books and from sections on microscope slides. It struck me to be a great way to teach students as well as the public.

I felt extremely proud speaking about the work that we do, what we have achieved so far, and also had the opportunity to meet with our supporters as well as the researchers.

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