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Grafts-be-Gone

Method attracts stem cells that grow bone

Liping Tang and Joseph Borrelli

Traditional bone grafting may eventually be a thing of the past, thanks to a pair of researchers from UT Arlington and Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

Bioengineering Professor Liping Tang (above left) and physician Joseph Borrelli are investigating whether bone grown from the body’s own stem cells can provide a more effective replacement for bone grafts.

Today, if a patient suffers from a bone defect or complex tibia fracture, for example, a surgeon may perform an iliac crest bone graft. The surgeon uses a mechanism that scrapes or shaves bone from the pelvis, then places those shavings directly into the defect or combines them with other proteins.

The researchers’ procedure would eliminate this grafting technique. It instead uses biodegradable polymer scaffolding material, bone morphogenetic protein, and erythropoietin to attract stem cells that produce bone. That in turn allows surgeons to establish a “mini-bioreactor” in a patient’s body.

“This research will help us formalize a specific type of scaffolding mixture that could eliminate the use of current bone grafting techniques,” says Dr. Borrelli, chair of orthopedics at Texas Health Arlington Memorial.

The scientists successfully tested the process on mice, determining that the abdomen of the animal effectively mimics the traumatic and foreign body environmental response that takes place during various bone repair procedures in humans. Bone tissue was generated in just a few days, rather than the weeks or months current processes take in a lab.

“In the future, a physician will be able to inject the scaffolding material with the ideal protein into the area where the patient’s bone needs to grow or repair,” Borrelli explains. “The patient’s cells will never have to leave the body.”

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