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Project CARTHAGO coordinated in PT by i3S

The European project CARTHAGO, in which i3S takes part, was recently financed by the European Union with 3.3 million euros. It is a part of the European Marie Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) in Regenerative Medicine for osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc degeneration, and has the participation of 18 institutions from 10 European Union countries. The objective of this multidisciplinary team is to explore the potential of gene therapy to regenerate damaged tissues in disc and joint diseases.

The wear and tear of the cartilage and intervertebral discs often leads to osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain which affects human health and well-being worldwide. The objective of the interdisciplinary team of the CARTHAGO project is to investigate how cartilage and intervertebral discs can grow back and how both tissues can be stimulated to regenerate.

The researchers plan to inhibit the production of inflammatory factors in the cells (which cause the tissue to rupture) and to stimulate the production of growth factors. To do this they will develop delivery mechanisms for nucleic acids to make it easier for them to enter cells. “We will explore new polymers called dendrimers that have a branched structure which was developed and patented by us, that together with RNA form a nanoparticle”, explains researcher Ana Paula Pêgo, who coordinates the project at i3S. The research group she coordinates, NanoBiomaterials for Targeted Therapies, will receive €237,000 to train a researcher in this area for four years.

“In this consortium, we are also looking at physics-based approaches to make damaged tissue more accessible to therapies. We will use ultrasound - sound waves with high frequencies that we cannot hear”, adds the researcher. In addition, she adds, “we will investigate how tissue penetration and cell uptake is influenced by the biomechanical forces that act on the cartilage in a joint and the disc during our daily activities”. “The invitation to join the ITN CARTHAGO represents an excellent opportunity to contribute our experience to develop innovative and more biocompatible vehicles to deliver nucleic acids, which may also have an impact in other areas of nanomedicine, such as in the development of vaccines. In addition, it will be very rewarding to participate in the training of a group of young scientists who at the end of their PhD will be highly qualified in the design and application of advanced methods of genetic modulation, with a clear awareness of their responsibility as scientists and innovators to society. With them, we hope that gene therapy will become a reality as an effective regenerative treatment of diseases of the cartilaginous tissue”.

The CARTHAGO project (Regeneration of cartilage tissue by gene therapy: Overcoming obstacles to efficient delivery) is coordinated by the University Medical Center of Utrech and has the participation of 18 partners in Sweden, Holland, Portugal, Romania, Denmark, United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, who together will train a total of 15 professionals in Regenerative Medicine.