Emma Gets to Better Outcomes for Osteoarthritis Patients with Wes

"Wes gives me more throughput so I can get more replicates and trust my results a little bit more, and I can trust them straight away rather than having to do a lot of repeats. And obviously I like getting results the same day rather than having to wait two days"

- Emma Wilson (née Humphrey), Ph.D., Lecturer in Molecular Biology, Institute of Medicine, University of Chester

Emma Wilson (née Humphrey), Ph.D.

Drilling down into stem cell repair

Emma is a Lecturer in Molecular Biology in the Institute of Medicine at the University of Chester where she teaches undergraduate and graduate classes and labs. When she’s not doing that, she’s busy studying diseases like osteoarthritis. She collaborates closely with researchers based at the Orthopedic Hospital in Oswestry, UK and the Centre for Proteome Research at the University of Liverpool to understand how stem cells can repair damaged cartilage joints.

Her lab is currently involved in a large-scale proteomic study on synovial fluid from the joints of patients with knee problems to look for differences between patients that show improvements after treatment and those who don’t.

Slow pace to better treatments

The proteomics data set collected from this study was huge as they had synovial fluid from different patients at three different stages of treatment. Emma needed to biochemically validate the mass spectrometry data generated, but each traditional Western blot only gave her 15 data points including molecular weight marker and took two days for results. And if a Western blot failed, Emma had to start all over and repeat the experiment, making the wait time for answers even longer. So validating a large proteomic study using Western blots was far from ideal.

The lab also planned to compare the synovial fluid from patients with different types of treatment where patients would either get autologous chondrocyte implantation, mechanical intervention to release stem cells from the bone, or a combination of both. They’re hoping the results will help them understand why particular therapies for joint repair fail and in the long-term be able to make suggestions on the best treatment for a particular patient. But doing this study meant even more samples using Western blots, so they knew it would take a long time to complete.

Fast tracking large-scale proteomics

Wes almost doubled how many samples the group screened per experiment – they now get 25 data points compared to 15 with traditional Western blot. They also get data more than 10X faster since results are ready on Wes in three hours. Emma’s already identified some proteins with different expression levels in synovial fluids from different patients. Wes is a lot more reliable for them too, so fewer experiments have to be repeated. One very important feature of Wes for Emma is how the straightforward nature of the system makes it really easy for a student to learn how to run. A traditional Western blot requires a lot of manual steps and her students sometimes found it difficult to keep track of everything. Wes is so easy to use that students easily pick it up and quickly become productive in the lab.

Taking on other disease treatments

Osteoarthritis is just one of the many diseases Emma studies, and she’s been using Wes in more projects – so she’s really just getting started. For example, she plans to use Wes to help her quantify proteins involved in the pathogenesis of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)1, to verify the monoclonal antibodies she’s made to an important protein involved in dystroglycanopathies, a group of inherited neuromuscular diseases2, and to study the effects of long-term anti-epilepsy drug use in bone loss3.

Emma is so pleased with her results, she’s told her other collaborators about Wes. A lot of the groups she works with avoid Western blots when they can since it’s a technically difficult technique, so they’re interested in figuring out how Wes can give them more reliable data.

Emma’s inspired by seeing people who are sick easily get better because her research leads to better treatments. The faster time to results and increased throughput with Wes not only lets her help them, it also frees up time to do something else she loves – riding her horses.

Learn more about this researcher’s work

1. Current research on SMN protein and treatment strategies for spinal muscular atrophy, EL Humphrey, HR Fuller, and GE Morris, Neuromuscular disorders, (2012), 22(2) 193-7.

2. A new monoclonal antibody DAG-6F4 against human alpha-dystroglycan reveals reduced core protein in some, but not all, dystroglycanopathy patients, EL Humphrey, E Lacy, LT Le, L Feng, F Sciandra, CR Morris, JE Hewitt, I Holt, A Brancaccio, R Barresi, CA Sewry, SC Brown, GE Morris, Neuromusl Disord., (2015), 25, 32–54.

3. Anti-epileptic drugs and bone loss: Phenytoin reduces pro-collagen I and alters the electrophoretic mobility of osteonectin in cultured bone cells, EL Wilson, M Garton, HR Fuller, Epilepsy Research, (2016), 122-97-101.

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