Broken bones in humans and animals are painful and often take months to heal. Studies conducted in part by researchers at UGA’s Regenerative Bioscience Center show promise to significantly shorten the healing time and revolutionize the course of fracture treatment.
“Complex fractures are a major cause of amputation of limbs for U.S. military men and women,” said Steve Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center.
“For many young soldiers, their mental health becomes a real issue when they are confined to a bed for three to six months after an injury,” said Stice, who also is an animal and dairy scientist in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “This discovery may allow them to be up and moving as fast as days afterward.”
Stice is working with Dr. John Peroni to develop a fast bone healing process.
“This process addresses both human and veterinary orthopedic needs,” said Peroni, an associate professor of large animal surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the RBC.
Peroni and Stice are leading the large animal portion of a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through the Baylor College of Medicine. The larger project, led by Baylor scientists, also includes scientists and surgeons from Rice University and the University of Texas, who conducted the early rodent studies.
The large animal project group they lead is a multidiscipline and multi-institutional group actively working on bone tissue engineering.
Between 2009 and 2011, the collaborations received a $1.4 million DOD-funded grant for the use of stem cells in fracture healing to be tested in sheep.
“In our experiences with large animal models, following the guidelines established by our animal care and use committee,” Stice said, “we have been successful in formulating a product that contains mesenchymal stem cells and allows them to survive in the environment of the fracture long enough to elicit the rapid formation of new bone.”
This year, the group showed bone can be generated in sheep in less than four weeks. The speed in which bone is formed is one of the truly unique features of this study.
To start the bone regeneration process, the RBC used adult stem cells that produce a protein involved in bone healing and generation. They then incorporated them into a gel, combining the healing properties into something Stice calls “fracture putty.”
With Peroni’s assistance, the Houston-based team used a stabilizing device and inserted putty into fractures in rats. Video of the healed animals at two weeks shows the rats running around and standing on their hind legs with no evidence of injury. The RBC researchers are testing the material in pigs and sheep, too.
“The next step is to show that we can rapidly and consistently heal fractures in a large animal,” Peroni said, “then to convert it to clinical cases in the UGA (College of Veterinary Medicine) clinics where clinicians treat animals with complex fractures all the time.”
Once they have something that works for animals, it will be passed over to the DOD for human use.
One of the best hopes for the fracture putty is in possible facial cranial replacements, an injury often seen on the battlefield.
The project ends in mid-2012.