Here’s a feel-good story from the field of medical science: researchers have scored big in their use of “ultrasound, stem cells, and gene therapy to stimulate robust bone repair.”
According to Science magazine, the experiment that’s repaired major fractures on pigs “has already been so successful that it’s expected to move quickly toward human clinical trials.”
The article cites the pressing need for this development, pointing out that “In the United States alone, some 100,000 people a year suffer from what is known as a nonunion fracture. In these cases, parts of a bone may be missing altogether or so badly splintered that the bone can’t be reassembled.”
Typically, patients get a piece of bone taken from another part of their body, and this is then ‘grafted’ into the injury site. The process is painful, lengthy, and yields less than promising recovery results.
Work on improving this treatment has geared towards “packing the wound with the usual collagen matrix and waiting for a couple of weeks for the stem cells to infiltrate the scaffold.” Afterwards, they create and inject into the fracture site “a solution containing numerous copies of their gene of interest alongside gas-filled micron-sized bubbles encased by a thin shell of fat molecules.”
Finally, an ultrasound wand is used to generate pulses that “burst the microbubbles, briefly punching nano-sized holes in any adjacent stem cells, which allows the genes in the solution to enter.”
Here’s a short clip explaining it:
Talk about bursting the bubble – who knows how fast and easy this could make injury recovery in the future?
The research is led by Dan Gazit, a regenerative medicine expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. His team’s work has drawn praise across the field, and they continue to push the development.
Johnny Huard, orthopaedics researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, notes that the pigs used in the study were all just months old, and that testing needs to move to older animals.
“Younger animals, including people, tend to have far more MSCs (mesenchymal or bone-forming stem cells) than older ones, he says, yet large fractures are far more common in the elderly than the young.”
So while there’s no shortage of optimism surrounding the research, only time will tell when humans will finally get a crack at it.
For more information on the research, click the link below.