Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have developed a material that replicates human bone tissue which they are using to explore bone cancer and to treat large bone injuries.
The researchers, led by Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Dentistry and a member of CEDAR, the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, were able to develop the material at what they called an unprecedented level of precision. The material has a 3D mineral structure that has bone cells, nerve cells and endothelial cells that self organize into blood vessels exactly like a real bone.
Human Stem Cells Used to Make Bone Material
To create the material the researchers mixed human stem cells into a solution that was made up of collagen. The collagen proteins connect to form a gel that encompasses the stem cells. A mixture of dissolved calcium, phosphate, and the protein osteopontin was used to create the material. The protein osteopontin additive, which is derived from cows milk, keeps the minerals from crystalizing too soon and minimizes the toxicity of the mineral to cells. The researchers were able to reproduce the bone structure down to a nanometer scale and go through the same process a bone does when it forms. It marks the first time researchers were able to embed cells in minerals. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
“Essentially it is a miniaturized bone in a dish that we can produce in a matter of 72 hours or less,” said Bertassoni in a press release announcing the work. “What is remarkable is that researchers in our field have become used to cultivating cells within a protein mixture to approximate how cells live in the body. But this is the first time anyone has been able to embed cells in minerals, which is what characterizes the bone tissue.”
Material Holds a lot of Research Promise
Because the researchers were able to embed cells in minerals the new material holds a lot of promise when it comes to studying bone function, diseases, and bone regeneration. With the material, Bertassoni said researchers can examine how bone cells attract certain types of cancers, how cancer cells move throughout bones and marrow function. The material can also be used to determine what drives diseases such as leukemia.
“Being able to engineer truly bone-like tissues in the lab can also be transformative for regenerative medicine,” Bertassoni said, “Since the current treatment for large bone fractures requires the removal of the patient’s own healthy bone so that it can be implanted at the site of injury.”