Inside this femur [thigh bone] lies a type of cell that once helped to build the skeleton in the womb, and could be reawakened to help ageing joints. Osteochondroreticular (OCR) stem cells, labelled with a red fluorescent marker, are pictured spreading all over the femur (white), into areas of growing bone tissue (green), as well as cartilage and connective tissue (blue). Yet it’s not just where they are, but what they’re doing that makes these cells so special. OCRs have the capability to transform, or differentiate, into new bone and into new cartilage – a sort of self-contained repair team for skeletal damage. This femur is from an adult mouse, but the race is on to investigate similar cells in human tissues. In the future, OCRs may be transplanted into areas of damage or disease, their skeleton-building potential put to use as novel treatments for bone fractures, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
Written by John Ankers