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Unusual Biomedical Animals Week Skates On

Skates give insight into cartilage repair – a function poor in mammals

22 June 2020

Skates On

Our skeletons are changing – the spongy cartilage that cushions our healthy bones erodes as we age often leaving joints damaged and sore. Yet the adult skeletons of these little skate (Leucoraja erinacea) are made almost entirely from cartilage (revealed in light blue). Skate genes similar to those in charge of shaping human cartilage somehow allow the skate to carry on replacing this vital tissue as they age – and researchers recently found skate can even repair injured cartilage. The secret may be a special type of progenitor cell – similar to human stem cells used in cartilage therapies but with a crucial difference – while human cells eventually change or differentiate from cartilage into bone, the skate’s progenitor cells ‘stop’ at cartilage. Investigating which genes are switched ‘on’ or ‘off’ in these cells could suggest ways to fine tune the genetics of human stem cells, yielding new treatments for conditions like osteoarthritis.

Written by John Ankers

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