Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Growing bone from stem cells

Diane Souza had a severely fractured arm repaired by CIRM grantees at University of California, Davis who were working with stem cells taken from bone marrow. There's more about her story on our website.
Our friends at the New York Stem Cell Foundation had some big news to share yesterday afternoon: Their scientists were able to grow new bone from reprogrammed skin cells.

Bone can heal itself if the injuries are relatively small, but major injuries pose a challenge for the body's own repair mechanism. Doctors often need to take a small amount of bone from elsewhere in the body and then use it to repair the injury or use synthetic substitutes. But these approaches doesn't always work, and sometimes there just isn't enough bone available to heal a large injury.

Many groups in California and elsewhere are working on ways of transplanting various types of stem cells into the damaged area, and coaxing those cells to heal the damage. A group of CIRM grantees is working with a type of stem cell found in the bone marrow that can form bone and cartilage. Diana Souza spoke to our governing board last year to talk about how this approach was used to heal her arm -- that talk and talks by the scientists are available on our website. We also have a list of all awards focusing on bone and cartilage conditions.

Rather than starting with stem cells from the bone marrow or other tissues, the group in New York started with skin cells, then reprogrammed those back to an embryonic-like state. These are the so-called iPS cells that earned Shinya Yamanaka the Nobel Prize last year. The group then matured those cells in a lab dish into a biological precursor to bone. In order to create a bone-like structure out of these shapeless cells in a lab dish, they created a synthetic scaffold for the cells to grow on. When they transplanted this cell-covered scaffold into animals, they grew mature-looking bone.

As with so many advances, this one comes with caveats. For starters, the work was done in lab animals, not humans. Here's what NYSCF had to say in a press release:
The scientists caution that although these results represent a major advance, further research is necessary before skin cell-derived bone grafts reach patients. Next steps include protocol optimization and the successful growth of blood vessels within the bone.
The work was published May 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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