Information for patients & public

As part of an assignment of the TargetCaRe training programme, the TargetCaRe ESRs have prepared information for patients and the general public on several topics related to the research done within TargetCaRe and it’s background.

What is TargetCaRe?

In the Target CaRe project a team of scientists is working towards treatments for Osteoarthritis and low back pain. This EU funded project runs for four years and involves 11 universities and 3 industrial partners. Fifteen young researchers, under the guidance of world experts in health sciences from many disciplines, combine their specialist expertise to work towards a common solution. The novelty of the project relies on the mobility of, and the close collaboration as well as the sharing of knowledge between researchers and institutions.

This project studies the basic science of osteoarthritis and low back pain and its treatment to further extend knowledge of this increasingly prevalent disease. The ultimate aim of the project is the development of technologies that can lead to therapies to increase the quality of life for sufferers of osteoarthritis and lower back pain. Promising results will be further investigated for their potential clinical application. Rigorous testing and clinical and regulatory approval requires time, so that several years will pass before potential therapies will be available to patients. However, the importance of osteoarthritis and low back pain for patients as well as society, and the lack of disease modifying drugs and other treatments for these diseases highlights the importance of this project and its potential benefit to patients and society in the long-term.

OA and low back pain

Osteoarthritis (OA) and low back pain are worldwide diseases, affecting millions of people. Among people over 60 years old, 10% of males and 18% of females are affected by these functional joint failures. They occur when the cushion between joints breaks down. This leads to pain, stiffness and swelling. To diagnose OA and/or low back pain, a physician will closely check the stiffness, swelling or redness and range of motion in the joint. Also, imaging techniques like X-ray can be used to confirm the examination results. These diseases can be consequences of injury and/or aging. Inherited factors also play a role in the development. The current options to relief the symptoms are anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers and changes in life style, such as body weight loss and proper exercises.

Unfortunately, these treatments just slow the progression of the joint sickness. Nowadays, the only effective cure is joint replacement surgery. Researchers are working to find non-surgical alternative approaches based on novel compounds. Hopefully, in the next decades, these drugs will lead to cure the affected joints and regenerate the damaged tissue, providing great tools for joint health care.

Regenerative medicine

Most tissues of the human body heal spontaneously after damage. However, cartilage cannot do this after injury or as result of diseases, such as osteoarthritis. If these cartilage lesions are not treated, they will worsen over time. This can lead to pain, joint inflammation and can eventually result in disability. Current medical treatments for damaged cartilage do not solve the problem and aim mainly at pain relief. As a result, the damaged cartilage is lost and will never be replaced by healthy tissue. Therefore, there is an urgent need for novel treatments to overcome these problems.

In TargetCaRe, we are working on the development of advanced therapies for cartilage repair, based on the principle of regenerative medicine. This means that we aim to stimulate the human body to replace the damaged cartilage by healthy tissue, restoring its normal function. To do this, we will develop drugs that can reduce joint inflammation, while stimulating stem cells in the joint to produce new healthy cartilage. The goal is, that the drugs will reach specifically the damaged joint and not other tissues, this will reduce the risk of side effects. A further target is to reduce the invasiveness of the treatment. We believe that our studies will provide novel tools for cartilage repair, improving the efficacy of current therapeutic approaches.

Biomaterials & drug delivery

Biomaterials are made of compounds that can interact with the human body. The first materials, such as metals (titanium, stainless steel, etc.) and ceramics (zirconia, hydroxyapatite, etc.), have been used in prosthetics and dental implants. They are inert and do not interact with the body; therefore, new kinds of materials that can positively interact with the human body have been developed. These materials, generally based on polymers can be modified to obtain different sizes and shapes. Within TargetCaRe, various biomaterials will be employed to deliver different kind of drugs to specific areas of the human body. The main advantages of biomaterials are to reduce the side effects induced by drugs, decreasing doses and number of administrations.

Imaging techniques

At TargetCaRe, researchers are performing a variety of imaging techniques . Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), optical imaging, mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) and computed tomography (CT scan) are the novel methods used in research on OA and intervertebral disc degeneration. All these techniques are used to create detailed images of the joint and intervertebral disc, allowing the identification of pathologic characteristics. The techniques are also used to study laboratory samples, e.g. consisting of biomaterials or joint tissue treated with potential drugs. Each technique focuses on different aspects. Mass spectrometry imaging is used to have a look on cells and molecules, which allows researchers to identify characteristics of tissues but also to test the efficiency of drug treatments.

Optical imaging, MRI and CT scans are non-invasive techniques, to scan patients on a regular base to visualize changes in the human body. At TargetCaRe, we also use these tools to follow the different drug delivery systems developed within the consortium. The efficiency of these new potential therapies can be further assessed by the same imaging techniques. By using our imaging approaches, we hope to be able to detect and follow the cartilage regeneration after treatment. In the end, we expect to improve disease diagnostic by using state of the art imaging techniques, but also contribute to the development of new treatments for OA and intervertebral disc degeneration.