Dan Gazit, a researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, has developed an experimental procedure that combines stem cells, gene therapy, and ultrasound to heal large bone breaks in lab animals.
SO? I BROKE A BONE WHEN I WAS A KID AND I WAS FINE.
That’s because your broken bone was a simple fracture. Simple fractures are usually able to repair themselves with time and a cast. Severe fractures, on the other hand, can leave large gaps in bones that cannot be healed.
Right now, the standard treatment for severe fractures is surgical bone grafting an invasive procedure that involves taking bone from the pelvis and transplanting it elsewhere. This process is painful and carries the risk of infection and rejection.
I DON’T LIKE THE SOUND OF SURGICAL BONE GRAFTS. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS STEM CELL TREATMENT.
First, researchers injected collagen (a protein found in bones) into the gap of a fractured bone. The collagen then attracted the bone’s stem cells, giving them an area to settle into.
After the stem cells populated the gap in the bone, the researchers employed gene therapy. Gene therapy is the transplantation of genetic material into cells. The researchers injected genetic material called bone-promoting protein (BMP) into the bone gap.
To get the BMP into the stem cells, the researchers used an ultrasound wand. The wand opened up the stem cell membranes to allow the BMP in, encouraging the stem cells to begin differentiating into new bone tissue.
THAT DOESN’T SOUND PAINFUL AT ALL. HOW’D IT TURN OUT?
Eight weeks after the surgery, the bone gap was closed in all lab animals. Tests showed that the bone grown in the gap was as strong as bone produced by surgical grafts.
Results have been so successful that the procedure is expected to move quickly towards human clinical trials. If it’s found safe in humans, the stem cell treatment could replace bone grafting entirely, saving hospitals resources, and people from pain.
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