A team of researchers repaired a hole in a mouse’s skull by regrowing “quality bone,” a breakthrough that could drastically improve the care of people who suffer severe trauma to the skull or face. The work by a joint team of Northwestern Engineering and University of Chicago researchers was a resounding success, showing that a potent combination of technologies was able to regenerate the skull bone with supporting blood vessels in just the discrete area needed without developing scar tissue — and more rapidly than with previous methods.

Injuries or defects in the skull or facial bones are very challenging to treat, often requiring the surgeon to graft bone from the patient’s pelvis, ribs, or elsewhere, a painful procedure in itself.

But if all goes well with this new approach, it may make painful bone grafting obsolete. In the experiment, the researchers harvested skull cells from the mouse and engineered them to produce a potent protein to promote bone growth. They then used a hydrogel, which acted like a temporary scaffolding, to deliver and contain these cells to the affected area. It was the combination of all three technologies that proved so successful.

Using calvaria, or skull cells, from the subject meant the body didn’t reject those cells. Being able to safely deliver skull cells that are capable of rapidly regrowing bone in the affected site, in vivo as opposed to using them to grow bone in the laboratory, which would take a very long time, promises a therapy that might be more surgeon friendly.

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