Human bone has been grown naturally in a laboratory for the first time, which could do away with painful grafting operations.
Every year, around two million people have bone graft surgery, often removing part of their hip. The bone is needed for joint replacements, to fix badly broken bones, for spinal fusions and victims of landmines.
Now British scientists hope to spare patients this risky surgery by growing bones using cells taken from their own bone marrow.
Researchers, led by the University of Glasgow, have successfully triggered stem cells to turn into bone using tiny vibrations, providing 1,000 ‘nanokicks’ a second.
The bone was grown in a petri dish. Human trials are three years away and the bone could be available on the NHS within a decade.
Co-author Dr Peter Childs, from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘Currently patients have to have bone grafts taken from their hip, which is painful, comes with the risk of surgery and can lead to infection.
‘If you can produce an off-the-shelf solution using bone cells, the cells themselves can act as a repair mechanism. This study is a great step towards seeing stem cells used to grow bone and treat patients in the clinic, which is very exciting.’
Bone grafts are often needed in older people following hip and knee replacements to fill in the gap around the medical implant.
In complex fractures, such as those seen in people with osteoporosis, bone is taken from their hip and put into the break to help the shattered sections knit back together.
It is also vital for people who have been blown up by landmines and amputees who need more bone to attach a prosthetic leg or arm to save them from being wheelchair-bound.
The key to creating bone which will grow within the body is to use stem cells produced naturally within our bone marrow.
These cells can also turn into cartilage, ligaments, tendons or muscle, and scientists have previously used a chemical ‘soup’ to turn the stem cells into bone.
However these chemicals raise fears of side effects in patients if the stem cell mixture containing them is put into the human body.
Instead, scientists at the universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, the West of Scotland and Galway used a more natural method using tiny vibrations to trigger the stem cells to become bone-producing cells called osteoblasts.
The technique, which delivers 1,000 vibrations a second, is called ‘nanokicking’ and its success is reported in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Co-author Matthew Dalby, professor of cell engineering at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘This is an exciting step forward for nanokicking, and it takes us one step further towards making the technique available for use in medical therapies.
‘We are especially excited by these developments as much of the work we’re doing now is funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find a Better Way, which help individuals and communities heal from the devastating impact of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.’
In future stem cells could be taken from bone marrow using an injection, with one donor providing cells for many patients, or less painfully removed from fat stores within the body.
The first human trials are expected in three years, working with reconstructive and orthopaedic surgeons in Glasgow, along with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.