Speeding Up Bone Growth by Manipulating Stem Cells
If you break a bone, you know you’ll end up in a cast for weeks. But what if the time it took to heal a break could be cut in half? Or cut to just a tenth of the time it takes now? Qian Wang, a chemistry professor at the University of South Carolina, has made tantalizing progress toward that goal.
Wang, Andrew Lee and co-workers just reported in Molecular Pharmaceutics that surfaces coated with bionanoparticles could greatly accelerate the early phases of bone growth. Their coatings, based in part on genetically modified Tobacco mosaic virus, reduced the amount of time it took to convert stem cells into bone nodules — from two weeks to just two days.
The key to hastening bone healing or growth is to coax a perfectly natural process to pick up the pace.
“If you break a rib, or a finger, the healing is automatic,” said Wang. “You need to get the bones aligned to be sure it works as well as possible, but then nature takes over.”
Healing is indeed very natural. The human body continuously generates and circulates cells that are undifferentiated; that is, they can be converted into the components of a range of tissues, such as skin or muscle or bone, depending on what the body needs.