A New Technique Makes It Possible to Regrow Bones

Combining New Technologies

A research team from Northwestern University and the University of
just repaired a hole in the skull of a mouse by
regrowing “quality bone.” This breakthrough could render bone-grafting techniques obsolete, drastically improving the outcomes of people with severe head or facial bone trauma. The technique regenerated the skull bone
and the blood vessels it needed for its support in only the
injured area more rapidly than past methods and without
developing scar tissue.

The researchers achieved a satisfactory result in their
experiment by combining technologies. First, they harvested
the mouse’s skull cells and then engineered them to produce a
strong bone growth-promoting protein: BMP9. They next used a
hydrogel created by biomedical engineering professor and
research team member Guillermo Ameer as a kind of temporary
scaffolding. With this in place, the harvested cells were
delivered and remained contained within the affected area.

A schematic representation of the experimental design. Credit: Northwestern UniversityA schematic representation of the experimental design. Credit: Northwestern University

The skulls of the mice in the study didn’t reject the cells because they were harvested from their bodies. BMP9
was the chosen protein because it not only promotes the rapid growth of bone cells but also improves the creation of blood
vessels in the surrounding area, which is essential to
support healthy bone tissue.

This research demonstrates the possibilities of safe in vivo bone regrowth, a process that is far faster than growing bone outside of the body. It would also be fairly easy for other
doctors to adopt, according to Ameer: “[The process is]
surgeon friendly, if you will, and not too complicated to
scale up for the patients.”

Success on Multiple Fronts

Defects and injuries in the facial bones or skull are very
challenging to treat. They often require doctors to graft
bone from elsewhere in the patient’s body, such as their ribs
or pelvis. Not only is that process painful for the patient,
but it can also be difficult for the surgeon if the damaged area is
large or if the graft must be contoured to the cranial curve
or the angle of the jaw. However, if this new approach proves
workable, that process may become a thing of the past.

The technique demonstrated in this research was successful in
several key ways. The regenerated bone was higher quality
than the bone created using other techniques; the scaffolding
confined the bone growth to a specific area effectively; the
healing process was faster than that observed following other
techniques; and areas of old and new bone were continuous and
uninterrupted by scar tissue. All of these results suggest
tremendous potential for the treatment of people suffering
from aggressive cancers attacking the face or skull or
victims of car accidents or other serious traumas to the head
and face.

While Ameer did caution that the technology remains years
away from potential application in humans, he also noted that
the team is optimistic: “We did show proof of concept
that we can heal large defects in the skull that would
normally not heal on their own using a protein, cells, and a
new material that comes together in a completely new way. Our team is very excited about these findings and the future of
reconstructive surgery.”

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