It seems as though the uses for stem cells have no boundaries. In the past few years, they have been used to create a damaged trachea and have even replaced heart tissue. In a recent example of the potential for stem cell use, these cells were used to grow facial bones in a boy who had no cheekbones.
Stem Cells to Create New Bone
While we have ways to substitute bone now, these are far from ideal. Surgeons will repair bone using an array of materials such as plastic and metal substances. If we could grow bone from stem cells, it would mean using something natural that works just like already existing bone. The potential for the body to reject a foreign material would be removed.
In fact, a person who has bone removed from another part of their body to replace bone where it is needed can still reject the transplant. Better still is that with stem cells, we could ensure that the bone functions as it should whereas function and form from other substitutes remain imperfect.
Giving a Patient New Bone
In the recent case of a teenaged boy, stem cells derived from fat tissue were used. This particular patient was born with a very rare genetic defect that meant he was missing cheekbones. If you think about your cheekbones, they are not simply composed of useless bone with no purpose.
Your cheekbones actually serve an important function by protecting your eyes. For this particular patient, it means that the surgery was far from being just one to improve his appearance. In the surgery, doctors were able to use the stem cells to grow new cheekbones for the boy.
Challenges Ahead for Stem Cells
While it is exciting and positive that the procedure was a success, it is far from being a simple procedure that will work for everyone who requires new bone. One reason that surgery was so successful in this specific case is due to the age of the boy. The body has a better ability to regenerate and heal at this tender, young age. Surgeons warn that the results may not be as quick in an elderly person, for instance.
Something else to keep in mind is that the true measure of the procedure being fully effective is years away. Sometimes, a transplant will work initially but may later be rejected. While the surgeons are optimistic that the procedure went well in the recent case of the teenaged boy, they do caution that five years or more down the road will be important benchmarks to ensure the bone is still functional.
Stem Cells to Repair Bones
If this experiment is a sign of things to come, it could mean that anyone who requires bone could benefit. This might be a person who has bone cancer or someone who has been injured in a war. Other times, it may be a case of repairing bone that was damaged from an accident. Hopefully, we will continue to see benefits from stem cells used to help those who need bone repair.