Back in 2009 the U.S. Department of Defense awarded $5.2 million in preliminary funding to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to explore the possibility of using a revolutionary self-hardening putty. The putty was constructed out of bioactive nanoporous silicon with millions of tiny tunnels that would serve as a scaffolding. The bioactive compounds attract a patient’s stem cells and the stem cells naturally facilitate the growth of bone and aid in the healing of new soft tissues.
Dr. Mauro Ferrari suggested that success in even a small part of the project would revolutionize orthopedic medicine, “It could give people with serious leg injuries an opportunity to regain full use of limbs that now require amputations or the use of permanent implants. We’re creating a living material that can be applied to crushed bones. The putty will solidify inside the body and provide support while the new bone grows.”
“Anything you can do to start the healing process as quickly as possible is good for the patient,” said John Holcomb, a retired U.S. Army surgeon who now heads the Center for Translational Injury Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “This could reduce the risk of infection and the onset of complications.”
Other research at the Skeletal Biotechnology Laboratory at the Hebrew University Faculty of Dental Medicine also explored the use of stem cells in the healing of bone fractures. In this case researchers used technology that involved isolation of the stem cells from bone marrow. It was developed by Dr. Zulma Gazit, Dr. Gadi Pelled, Prof. Dan Gazit. The technology as reported in the journal Stem Cell was successfully used to treat complicated fractures in seven patients at the Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.
The researchers developed a new technique that enabled them to immediately use stem cells from the body and redeploying them to aid the healing of bone fractures.
In recent years, standard stem cell treatments required mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs, or multipotent stem cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types) to be withdrawn from the body and are then first incubated and enhanced before being returned to the patient.
This method has proved to be laborious, costly and also possibly injurious to the therapeutic quality of the cells. Therefore, an alternative method involving the immediate use of these stem cells was an unmet need in the field of regenerative medicine.
The Israeli researchers use a new immuno-isolation technique in which MSCs are sorted out from the other cells residing in a bone marrow sample, using a specific antibody. The immuno-extracted stem cells showed that it can be immediately used to form new bone tissue when implanted in laboratory animals, without having to undergo a prolonged incubator growth period.
Following this breakthrough, a clinical-grade protocol for the use of immuno-isolated MSCs was established. Subsequently a clinical trial was initiated at Hadassah, aimed at establishing the foundation for the use of immuno-isolated MSCs in orthopedic surgery.
To date, seven patients suffering from complicated fractures have been treated successfully with a combination of their own immuno-isolated MSCs and other blood products. The entire procedure lasted a few hours and without any need to grow the cells for weeks in a laboratory.
Though the results are preliminary, both the MD Anderson and the Isareli research open another advancing avenue of a broad range of techniques being established world wide in the use of a person’s own stem cells to treat a variety of physical problems.