Breakthrough as scientists grow bone tissue in lab

Scientists have grown human bone tissue in a test tube in a breakthrough that promises to revolutionise the treatment of osteoporosis, arthritis and other bone diseases.

Scientists have grown human bone tissue in a test tube in a breakthrough that promises to revolutionise the treatment of osteoporosis, arthritis and other bone diseases.

The researchers grew the bone cells of an adult patient on a glass-like material, which they believe can be used asa "scaffold" to build threedimensional structures for transplant surgery. Another possibility is for the bone tissue, and a liquid form of the glass, to be injected directly on to a fractured area of the skeleton, which could then repair itself naturally.

Julia Pollak, professor of pathology at Hammersmith Hospital in west London, said the findings showed it would be possible to introduce artificially grown bone from the laboratory into patients with serious bone disorders. "We've shown that with the right sort of man-made material acting as a scaffold we are able to induce the proliferation of bone cells in the test tube," Professor Pollak said.

Once the glass scaffold is put into place, it begins to degrade gradually without any side-effects, leaving the transplanted bone cells to repair any damaged bone. "This discovery is a significant step forward in the fight against osteoporosis and in the development of better treatment for bone injuries," she said.

The glass - a ceramic material that is known to have biological properties - is already used in medical procedures and so should have little difficulty in being accepted for clinical trials, Professor Pollak said.

The material, called Bioglass, not only acts as a template for bone cells to grow, it releases salts that encourage their proliferation and maturity into fully formed bone tissue.

After the bone tissue is transplanted into the body, the scientists hope that it will be inundated with new blood vessels and nerve cells to become part of the body's living tissues.

The Hammersmith study is part of a wider programme of research into tissue engineering, which is looking at how bone cells develop from embryonic cells and the genetic influences on bone growth and development.

"Our challenge now lies in developing the material further to cut down on bacterial infection and to understand how we can combine our recent genetic findings to co-ordinate bone-cell growth and differentiation to optimise the healing process with the body," Professor Pollak said.

Professor Robert Winston, director of research and development at Hammersmith Hospital, said the work promised many benefits. "The growth of human bone outside the body is a great achievement in the battle to fight brittle bone disease, and is an example of how collaborative research can uncover new treatments and help patients," he said.

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