Growing Cartilage from our Stem Cells

Growing Cartilage from our Stem Cells


(From left) Dr Sunny Cheng, Dr Annie Cheng, Dr Daniel Chik and Dr Barbara Chan

Living Tissues Co. Ltd. is a new start-up that has emerged from the 21st century vision of an HKU laboratory to grow new tissues from the stem cells in our bone marrow and use them to repair damaged parts of our bodies.

Over the past eight years, a team of biomedical engineers, led by Associate Professor Dr Barbara Chan in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been manipulating stem cells from animal bone marrow with treatments and technologies to shape them into cartilage and bone. This has then been applied to repair damaged knee joints.

The success of these experiments have been comparable to autografting (taking tissue from one part of the body and using it to repair another part), which is the gold standard for tissue repair. Except in this case, there is no need to damage healthy tissue, the stem cell-derived tissue can be developed into both cartilage and bone, and the technique can be applied to other joints besides knees.

The demand for such capability is expected to explode as populations age with a sportier life style that makes people suffer more wear and tear on their joints.

Having developed four technology platforms and 10 patents to support this capability, Dr Chan said now is the time to advance it to the next stage.

"We have come to a point where we realize that the scope and the pace of R&D in this technology would be limited if we keep them within the university laboratory. We have some of the best results and some of the best technology in this field. We need funding and the right partners to take this to clinical trial and to commercialisation."

Living Tissues was established to help make that happen. It is led by Dr Chan's two former PhD students, Dr Daniel T.K. Chik and Dr Annie H.W. Cheng. Dr Sunny K.W. Cheng, who used to be in charge of "technopreneur" funds in the Hong Kong government and is Dr Chan's former colleague, is the business advisor. The team has been working with orthopaedic surgeons over the years, and they are planning for the first human trial in the near future.

Dr Chan said that participating in the Living Tissues start-up was not only a way to advance their technology to the clinical setting, but also to support start-up culture in Hong Kong.

"Ten years ago it was a challenge for post-doctoratal fellows and a university professor to have a company. Now the community is more open to this and the government is providing start-up funding [Living Tissues has TSSSU@HKU support]. All of this counts," she said.