Repairing bone is important to people who suffer bone trauma or experience a loss of bone from disease. One of the ways in which researchers want to help is by finding uses for stem cells in bone repair.
Choosing a Stem Cell Source
While many sources of adult stem cells are being examined, a key one is to use stem cells from fat. By encouraging cells from a person’s fat to essentially regenerate the damaged bone, a person can experience better form and function. But how exactly would this work and are there any complications?
Starting a Study
A new study has just started to look at how stem cells from fat can help repair damaged bone. The study has been funded with a grant from the United States Army and it is hoped the results can help both the military and the general public.
How it Works
The method researchers are using involves the use of a material that has a gel-like consistency. This particular material then coaxes stem cells extracted from fat to regenerate bone that has been damaged.
Activating the Body’s Healing System
The stem cells trigger – or activate – the body’s own healing system. They work to stimulate the growth of very tiny blood vessels that are found within bone that is just in the developing stages. In this way, the bone actually repairs itself with the help of the stem cells removed from fat.
Stem cells are also contained to the site of bone injury due to the gel used in the procedure. As the bone continues to heal, the gel then degrades as it is no longer needed.
Researchers had first tried to inject only stem cells into the damaged bone but it did not work very well because the stem cells did not stay and instead, moved throughout the body. The gel remedies that issue by targeting the injury site.
Using Racehorses as a Model
A veterinary professor initially used the injection approach on racehorses that had been receiving treatment for bone cysts at a medical teaching hospital. They injected stem cells without a gel and are now using the gel technique in three horses.
Why Use Stem Cells from Fat?
The researchers who will soon start testing their results think that there are some important advantages to using stem cells from a person’s own fat. In the first instance, there is less chance of the body rejecting the cells because it recognises the cells as being its own. This kind of immunological rejection has traditionally been an issue with many kinds of treatments.
Fat is also a more conveniently accessible form of stem cells. Extracting stem cells from bone marrow, for instance, can be very time-consuming and painful. It also means that several days are required for the patient to recover from the procedure. With fat – also called adipose tissue – large numbers of cells can be isolated.
Safe and Successful Bone Repair
The ultimate hope is that one day, a surgeon can remove fat from a patient, isolate the stem cells and then combine them with the gel before injecting them right into a bone fracture. For patients who need bone repair, this research is exciting news that may help them one day in the near future.