Researchers in Belgium have found a new way to mend broken bones by extracting stem cells from fatty tissue. They believe this new, non-invasive technique could be used to treat and mend various bone disorders.
Bone marrow stem cells have been used in regenerative medicine to repair bone for quite a while. Typically, stem cells are removed from bone marrow at the top of the pelvis, which is then injected back into the body. But the team at the Saint Luc university clinic hospital in Brussels have found a way to remove sugar cube-sized pieces of fatty tissue from patients, which they claim is far less invasive than poking a needle into the pelvis. The stem cell concentration is also much higher in fatty tissue.
“It is complete bone tissue that we recreate in the bottle and therefore when we do transplants in a bone defect or a bone hole…you have a higher chance of bone formation,” Denis Dufrane, the coordinator at the Saint Luc center, told Reuters. “Our hope is to propose this technology directly in emergency rooms to reconstitute bones when you have a trauma or something like that.”
The fatty tissue stem cell material is molded to fill fractures, similar to the dentist’s filling in a tooth. The material then hardens in the body, assisting the bone in healing. The Saint Luc university researchers tested this technique on 11 patients, eight of whom were children. One 13-year-old boy they treated had a fracture and disorder that prevented his body from repairing bones. Within 14 months of the treatment, the boy was able to play sports again.
This year, another study reviewed how stem cells could be used to become building blocks of new bone, signaling another treatment option for bone disorders like osteoporosis. Bone marrow stem cells are often used in treating rheumatoid arthritis as well as to assist in bone growth after graft transplantation.
There remain a few issues that need to be solved, however, before it can be used commercially or as a main form of treatment. “It is interesting and it is new, but it will have limitations regarding load-bearing capacity and, as with other implants, it will need to connect to the blood vessels of the body rapidly to avoid dying off,” Marco Helder, International Federation for Adipose Therapeutics and Science (IFATS) president who is based at Amsterdam’s Vrije University medical center, told Reuters. “Any foreign object can cause irritation and problems, so the fact that this is just host tissue would be an advantage.”