It's Possible To Grow Bone for Grafts Within a Patient's Body
An international team of biomedical engineers has demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to grow healthy new bone reliably in one part of the body and use it to repair damaged bone at a different location.
The research, which is based on a dramatic departure from the current practice in tissue engineering, is described in a paper titled "In vivo engineering of organs: The bone bioreactor" published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We have shown that we can grow predictable volumes of bone on demand," says V. Prasad Shastri, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University who led the effort. "And we did so by persuading the body to do what it already knows how to do."
"This research has important implications not only for engineering bone, but for engineering tissues of any kind," adds co-author Robert S. Langer, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a pioneer in the field of tissue engineering. "It has the potential for changing the way that tissue engineering is done in the future."
The approach currently used by orthopedic surgeons to repair serious bone breaks is to remove small pieces of bone from a patient's rib or hip and fuse them to the broken bone. They use the same method to fuse spinal vertebrae to treat serious spinal injuries and back pain. Although this works well at the repair site, the removal operation is extremely painful and can produce serious complications. If the new method is confirmed in clinical studies, it will be possible to grow new bone for all types of repairs instead of removing it from existing bones. For people with serious bone disease, it may even be possible to grow replacement bone at an early stage and freeze it so it can be used when it is needed, says Prasad.
Despite the fact that living bone is continually growing and reshaping, the numerous attempts to coax bone growth outside of the body