Use of silk fibroin for encapsulation and differentiation of stem cells as a starting point for the development of advanced cartilage treatment





General Data


Member of UL

Veterinary faculty


Name of the leading partner

University of Ljubljana, Veterinary faculty  


leading partner  

Project code/ Project No


Project Title

Use of silk fibroin for encapsulation and differentiation of stem cells as a starting point for the development of advanced cartilage treatment  



Project period

1.10.2022 – 30.09.2024  

Yearly sum of FTE

1 FTE  


Metka Voga  

Scientific field







Project Phases

DS 1
Fabrication of a hydrogel from the sf solution  
DS 2
Encapsulation of cells into a hydrogel and the effect of a hydrogel and atmospheric conditions on the viability and chondrogenic differentiation of cells  
DS 3
Optimization of freezing and thawing and injectability of the cell-hydrogel construct  


Project description

In the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, intensive research is being conducted on the regeneration of cartilage that is unable to regenerate itself when injured. The development of cartilage therapy is focused on the use of mesenchymal stem cells/medical signaling cells (MSCs) to improve existing or develop new cell therapies. An important area of research related to cartilage regeneration is the search for ways a) to exploit the differentiation potential of MSC for use in surgical approaches to cartilage treatment, b) to develop systems that would allow cells to be immobilised at the target site without surgical intervention, by a minimally invasive injection method and c) to develop pre-prepared, readily available ("off-the-shelf") cell products for treatment, as the therapeutic use of MSC is associated with a time-consuming cell preparation process and a short lifespan. Readily available, prepared products would greatly facilitate clinical decision-making at the point-of-care, thereby facilitating access to MSC for treatment and making them available to a broad spectrum of patients. The project proposal addresses all three of the above research areas for cartilage regeneration. This project involves the use of a silk fibroin biomaterial as a cell carrier in the form of an injectable hydrogel for the encapsulation and cartilage differentiation of MSCs from canine adipose tissue. We will produce a hydrogel of silk fibroin by an innovative process that we expect will contribute to chondrogenic differentiation of MSCs. Adipose tissue-derived MSCs from dogs will be used to encapsulate the cells in a hydrogel. The encapsulated cells will be grown in a cell growth and differentiation medium under normal and hypoxic conditions, and the viability and expression of chondrogenic and hypertrophic genes of the encapsulated cells will be tested. We will also optimise the freezing and thawing of the cell-hydrogel construct, which has not been described before and will contribute significantly to the production of a pre-prepared, readily available product for potential therapeutic use. The results of the project, together with the developing therapeutic use of donor MSCs, may bring the routine therapeutic use of MSCs closer to reality. The development of hydrogels with the ability to encapsulate other cells or therapeutic agents such as growth factors or extracellular vesicles would also enable their use for the potential treatment of many other diseases. At the same time, the project will also be relevant for human medicine, as research into new veterinary treatments is an important basis for translational studies in human medicine, as they provide important data on the efficacy and safety of the use of cell products.


Structure of the project group