Scientists have grown three dimensional bone cells in the laboratory in a breakthrough development that could help “transform the lives” of patients.
It is hoped the discovery could in future be used to replace or repair damaged sections of bone, helping patients including landmine victims.
The scientists used technology originally developed to detect gravitational waves to generate tissue engineered bone graft, the latest development in a technique known as ‘nanokicking’.
Bone is the second most grafted tissue after blood and is used in reconstructive, maxillofacial and orthopaedic surgeries.
However surgeons can currently only harvest limited amounts of living bone from the patient for use in graft, and bone from other donors is likely to be rejected by the body.
Instead, surgeons must rely on inferior donor sources which contain no cells capable of regenerating bone, limiting the size of repairs they can effect.
The researchers, from the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, the West of Scotland and Galway, hope the new technique will prevent the problem of rejection.
Scientists have already used bone growing technology to save a dog’s leg from amputation and hope to begin human trials in around three years time.
Matthew Dalby, professor of cell engineering at the University of Glasgow, is one of the lead authors of the paper, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
He said: “This is an exciting step forward for nanokicking, and it takes us one step further towards making the technique available for use in medical therapies.
“We are especially excited by these developments as much of the work we’re doing now is funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find a Better Way, which help individuals and communities heal from the devastating impact of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.
“Now that we have advanced the process to the point where it’s readily reproducible and affordable, we will begin our first human trials around three years from now in the NHS along with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and reconstructive and orthopaedic surgeons in Glasgow.”
The scientists used measurement technology, based on the sophisticated laser interferometer systems built for gravitational wave detection of astrophysical objects, to turn mesenchymal cells taken from human donors into bone cells in three dimensions.
Mesenchymal stem cells, which are naturally produced by the human body in bone marrow, have the potential to differentiate into a range of specialised cell types such as bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon and muscle.
Nanokicking subjects cells to ultra-precise, nanoscale vibrations while they are suspended inside collagen gels.
The process of nanokicking turns the cells in the gels into a ‘bone putty’ that has potential to be used to heal bone fractures and fill bone where there is a gap.
Using patients’ own mesenchymal cells means surgeons will be able to prevent the problem of rejection, and can bridge larger gaps in bone.
These 3D living bone grafts, when implanted into patients in the future, will be able to repair or replace damaged sections of bone, scientists say.
In the Find a Better Way project at Glasgow University, the team will combine the bone putty with large 3D printed scaffolds to fill even larger bone defects.
Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath said: “Producing synthetic, off-the-shelf bone tissue will potentially transform the lives of untold numbers of civilian landmine blast survivors around the world.”
The research was funded by Find a Better Way, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).