CHAPEL HILL, NC, June 18, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Scientists have continued to expand the horizons for adult stem-cell therapies, with new
research revealing the latest stem-cell breakthrough for people whose broken bones fail to heal, especially sufferers of osteoporosis.
Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have unveiled research that shows transplantation of adult stem-cells to the site of a
fracture can improve vastly the healing of broken bones and give real hope to those who suffer from them.
"This finding is critical to patients who lack the proper healing process and to individuals prone to broken bones, such as those with osteoporosis
and the rare genetic condition known as brittle bone disease," said Dr. Anna Spagnoli, an associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical
engineering in the UNC School of Medicine and senior author of the UNC study.
The study reveals that normally in the course of healing a fracture, a person’s stem-cells migrate to the site of the break, where they form the
cartilage and bone that will knit the broken bones back together. However, more than 600,000 Americans every year suffer from fractures that do
not heal according to this process, meaning these bones stay broken, and can cause severe pain, bone deformities, and even death.
"Man-made materials do not address the normal bone’s function, and recurrent fractures, wear and toxicity are a real problem," Spagnoli said.
"There is clearly a need to develop alternative therapies to enhance fracture healing in patients with bone union failure."
In order to discover the healing potential of adult stem-cells, scientists transplanted adult stem-cells taken from the bone marrow of mice that
produce luciferase, the molecule that allows fireflies to glow in the dark. The researchers had also engineered the stem-cells to express a molecule
called "insulin-like growth factor 1" (IGF-1). IGF-1 helps bones to grow in size and strength.
The UNC researchers transplanted the stem-cells into mice that had fractures of the tibia with an intravenous injection and then put the mice in a
dark box where they could watch the glowing stem-cells traveling within them. The stem-cells were attracted to the fracture site, where a molecule
called CXCR4 acted as a homing beacon that was necessary for the cells’ migration.
A CAT scan showed the stem-cells improved healing at the fracture site by increasing the bone and cartilage between the bone gaps. The bone in
the treated mice was about three times stronger than that of untreated mice, whose bones were permitted to heal naturally.
"The beauty of regenerative medicine is that we are helping the body improve its innate ability to regenerate healthy tissue on its own, rather than
introducing manmade materials to try to patch up a broken bone," Spagnoli said.
Spagnoli added that the team chose adult stem-cells over the unethical embryonic stem-cells, because adult stem-cells are present in all tissues of
the body and are easier to manipulate. In this case, the team chose stem-cells from bone marrow since the procedure to gain such cells was
minimally invasive and needed the easiest method.
Doctors would need only a teaspoon of bone marrow from a patient to obtain what scientists call mesenchymal stem-cells, which have the po
tential to turn into bone, cartilage, fat, muscle and blood vessel cells. The patient’s own stem-cells would not face immune rejection from the body
- another strike against embryonic stem-cells, which are known to cause tumors.
The researchers say further trials on animal models will be necessary before their research can be developed into a safe and effective therapy in
The study was presented Monday at the annual Endocrine Society meeting in San Francisco by the first author, Froilan Granero-Molto, Ph.D., a post
-doctoral associate researcher in UNC’s pediatrics department.
Other co-authors of the study include Dr. Lara Longobardi, UNC assistant professor of pediatrics, along with the following researchers from
Vanderbilt University: Dr. Michael Miga, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Dr. Jared A. Weis, postgraduate fellow in biomedical
engineering; Benjamin Landis, medical student; and Lynda O’Rear, research specialist.
Funding for the study came from the National Institutes of Health.
The research from the US scientists is the latest success in the field of adult stem-cell research, following closely a study released earlier in June
by Australian researchers that showed promise for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists with Griffith University used a technique to obtain
adult stem-cells from the nose that successfully developed into dopamine-producing brain cells - giving the search for a cure for Parkinson’s more
real hope than ever.
Stem Cells May Heal Broken Bones
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Each year, approximately 7.9 million bone fractures occur in the United States alone, costing an estimated $70 billion. Of
these, 10 to 20 percent fail to heal. However, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have discovered
through an animal study that transplantation of adult stem cells enriched with a bone-regenerating hormone can help mend bone fractures that are
not healing properly.
The researchers found that stem cells manufactured with the regenerative hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) become bone cells and also
help the cells within broken bones repair the fracture, which speeds up the healing process. Fractures that do not heal during the normal
timeframe are called non-union fractures. The team used an animal model of a non-union fracture, called a "knockout" mouse that lacks the ability
to heal broken bones.
They took adult stem cells from bone marrow of mice and engineered the cells to express IGF-I. Then they transplanted the treated cells into
“knockout” mice with a fracture of the tibia, the long bone of the leg. The researchers showed through computed tomography scanning, that the
treated mice had better fracture healing than did mice either left untreated or treated only with stem cells. The treated mice had more bone
bridging the fracture gap, and the new bone was three to four times stronger.
"More excitingly, we found that stem cells empowered with IGF-I restored the formation of a new bone in a mouse lacking the ability to repair
broken bones. This is the first evidence that stem cell therapy can address a deficiency of fracture repair," Anna Spagnoli, M.D., the study’s team
leader and associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical engineering at UNC Chapel Hill, was quoted saying.
The study’s discovery “is a crucial step toward developing a stem cell-based treatment for patients with fracture non-unions. I think this treatment
will be feasible to start testing in patients in a few years,” Spagnoli said.