LONDON - Tissue engineering specialist IsoTis BV was awarded a EUR1 million grant to develop novel scaffolds and culture methods for engineering cartilage.

The money, from the European Commission, is part of a EUR2.91 million (US$2.62 million) program of research to be carried out by IsoTis in collaboration with four industrial and academic partners.

Company spokesman Hans Herlots told BioWorld International, "This is very significant for IsoTis. This is the second sizeable grant we have received, which would be a boost for any company at our stage of development. Until six months ago, the main focus was on skin and bone, but because of developments in our research group we now have a third main area of cartilage repair.

"It also demonstrates our abilities in moving from seed research to a mainstream program."

IsoTis, based in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, is also due to announce the signing of a contract for its tissue- engineered skin service with a chain of hospitals in Germany.

The cartilage research program called Scafcart will run for four years, and brings together leading academic experts in chondrocyte biology (cartilage-producing cells) at the University of Basel in Switzerland, the University of Sheffield in the UK and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, with the medical polymer company Fidia Advanced Biopolymers in Italy. The aim is to develop scaffolds that will allow cartilage cells from the patients to be cultured, forming biocompatible prostheses of the correct shape to repair injured joints and treat injuries to facial cartilage in the nose and ear.

Although cartilage consists of just one cell type, it is hard to culture. As it has no vasculature and no nerve connections, implants must have precisely engineered shapes. Clemens van Blitterswijk, IsoTis founder and CEO, said he is "convinced that the results of the Scafcart program will be a major factor in lifting the enormous health-care burden caused by articular cartilage injuries."

IsoTis has raised EUR27.5 million since its formation in 1996.

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