New bone implants on the way

August 27, 2009


Throughout our lives our bones continue to break down, and be replaced with new material as part of our body’s natural cycle of growth. However, when whole bones need to be replaced after tumours, or accidents, then there has so far been no way to successfully grow replacement bones. It happened in fiction with J K Rowling’s description of Skele-Gro which magically re-grows bones in around 8 to 12 hours and is a very painful process. Many women with osteoporosis find that using a natural bone growth promoter like natural progesterone may take longer but certainly isn’t painful!

Not sure if the scientists at Imperial College London had this in mind, but it seems that there is a worldwide interest in producing bone-like materials derived from stem cells with stem cell technology. The research results were recently published in the journal Nature Materials and it is hoped will be able to be implanted into patients who have damaged or fractured bones, or who have had parts of diseased bones removed. The idea is that, ultimately, these bone-like materials could be inserted into cavities so that real bone could meld with it and repair the bone.

It is currently possible to grow small ‘nodules’ of what appear to be bone-like material in the laboratory from different types of bone cells and stem cells. It is these different types of material that the scientists from Imperial College London have been comparing and they have discovered significant differences between the quality of the bone-like material that these can form.

For example, they found that materials grown from bone cells from mouse skull and mouse bone marrow stem cells successfully mimicked many of the hallmarks of real bone, which include stiffness. However, they found that the material grown from mouse embryonic stem cells was much less stiff and less complex in its mineral composition when compared to the other materials.

So what we have here is a good starting point as Professor Molly Stevens, from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, says: “Many patients who have had bone removed because of tumours or accidents live in real pain. By repairing bone defect sites in the body with bone-like material that best mimics the properties of their real bone we could improve their lives immeasurably. It brings us one step closer to developing materials that will have the highest chance of success when implanted into patients.”


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