A biomedical company based in Israel has claimed that, for the first time, a patient has been able to heal their own fractured shinbone after being injected with a bone graft, made from his own cells, and grown outside his body in a laboratory.
The company, Bonus BioGroup, explain what transpired in their press release. At present, the work has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal, but to be fair, if the procedure has just been carried out, it’s early days in that regard.
The patient in question had severely damaged his shinbone, his tibia, in a traffic accident. He initially underwent two operations which attempted to mend it using metal rods, but he was left with a gap that no conventional form of surgery could effectively fix.
He then had a choice of going through an experimental bone-healing procedure, or instead opting for an artificial bone fragment that would simply sit in the void. Left to his own devices, medical experts at hand determined that the bone wouldn’t heal on its own.
Bones, after all, are living things, not just static structural elements of our biology. Compact bone is the dense material that makes up 80 percent of your skeleton; the rest is made of porous spongy bone. Within your bones, you can find living bone cells named osteocytes, as well as blood vessels, nerve cells, and plenty of calcium and phosphorous compounds that act as a framework.
Bones usually attempt to heal themselves, but in some cases, this fails to transpire. Bonus BioGroup have claimed that they’ve found a way to solve this problem using the patient’s own cells.
In this case, the company took fat tissue from the patient and cultured it in a laboratory. Although detail at this point remains elusive – and we’ve reached out to the company for comment – it’s likely that stem cells, which can then be induced to differentiate into several types of new cell, are extracted from these fatty tissues.
They then used these cells to generate the missing bone cells, thereby creating an “injectable bone graft made of tiny bone particles, ready to be implanted in the patient's body.”
Importantly, by using the patient’s own cells, there was little chance of a dangerous immune reaction from the patient post-injection occurring.
“After transplantation, the separated bone particles consolidate into solid, autologous bone tissue able to heal the injured bone,” the company reports. It's not yet clear how successful the bone regeneration has been, though.
As reported by Reuters back in 2016, the very same firm grew a semi-liquid bone graft in a lab and injected it into the jaws of 11 patients. During this early-stage clinical trial, which again used the patients’ own fat cells, the material merged with the remaining bone and completed the jaw.
As noted by the new press release, a similar procedure has recently been carried out on a patient with a broken arm. Once again, cultured cells derived from their own body have been successfully injected into the damaged site.
In this latest case, then, the "world first" likely refers to the fact that the transplantation involved the leg, not the act of external growth and transplantation itself.
Growing living bone has, perhaps surprisingly, been done before, even if it hasn’t been transplanted into a patient in this way. As noted by Wired, stem cells in a collagen gel, stimulated by vibrations, produce mineralized bone “putty” that can serve as the basis for a bone graft. Gene therapy has also been used before to turn muscle and fat cells into bone and cartilage.
Medical staff on hand reportedly described the procedure as “science fiction”. Is this procedure science-fiction-turned-fact, though? Let’s wait on those peer-reviewed studies to find out.
[H/T: The Times of Israel]