Health Team

Stem cells could help heal broken bones

Posted June 19, 2008

— Research at UNC Hospitals has produced promising results for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have bone fractures that wil not heal.

An estimated 600,000 people suffer from unhealed bone fractures, which are a major cause of disability. Osteoporosis is the major culprit for women in that group because it can cause tiny, unhealed fractures in their spines.

Existing treatments for unhealed bone fractures often require surgery, bone grafts or prosthetic materials that never fully integrate with bones.

Ashely Wright, of Durham, has pursued traditional treatments since back problems led her to get a bone-density scan 10 years ago.

"What the doctor told me was that my bones were at least twice as old as the rest of me," Wright said. "There's so many small fractures you get with osteoporosis, little spinal fractures that you're not even aware of."

To help prevent the spread of osteoporosis and bone fractures, "Exercise is almost my full-time job," Wright said.

Results from a UNC lab, though, offer hope for people like Wright.

In studies of mice, UNC researcher Dr. Anna Spagnoli claims to have found a way to deliver bone-building stem cells to a fracture site.

"Three days after the fracture, the cells migrated to the fracture site. They didn't go to any other place, just went to the fracture site," Spagnoli said.

Spagnoli used adult stem cells from bone marrow and added a special molecule, similar to the one that makes fireflies glow, to allow her to see stem-cell activity.

A growth factor called IGF1 steered the stem cells into becoming bone cartilage – the glue that begins the bone healing process. Another molecular factor delivered the stem cells to the broken bone.

"The mice that received the stem cells with IGF1 had more healing tissue, had more cartilage,  had more bone," Spagnoli said.

Clinical human trials of the method will take at least two years to begin.


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  • mep Jun 20, 2008

    Promises do not cure people... only results do.

    FACT: With the current embronic stem cell lines that have been available to researchers for YEARS... not a single one has made it from the lab to human trials. They just dont work. And to prove it, note that not a single labratory has purchased embryonic stem cells from overseas to do research with. WHY? Because labs here in the US want the govt to pay for research that will likely prove to be worthless. Corporations will not invest in embronic research because it is too risky.

    ADULT stems cells on the other hand are currently curing people and being developed to do even more than embronic ones.

    Bonus: No one has to destroy an innocent life.

  • hooptie1964 Jun 20, 2008

    zProt - you took the words out of my mouth.


  • zProt Jun 20, 2008

    mep, you don't know your science. The fact is that embyonic stem cells hold many more times the promise than do adult stem cells. The only thing holding that work back is people like you. You've been fed propaganda lies.

    I believe all types should be thoroughly investigated. But what will likely happen is that Japan, Europe, and China will have the breakthroughs while we end up bickering about the "sanctity" of human life.

    Meanwhile ,we can just go to a foreign country for treatment. Outsourcing at its best!

    Get real, abortions are NOT induced to harvest stem cells. Stop spreading your lies and deceit.

  • mep Jun 19, 2008

    Please notice these were ADULT stem cells.
    Embryonic stems cells on the other hand, have never been successfully used to treat anything! Beyond the petry dish, embryonic stem cell results were poor at best.
    With adult stem cells, many diseases are currently being treated, and many more being researched. All without having to destroy life. You would think more people would care about such things. They will stop a power plant from being built because of a migrating bird nest... but kill innocent human embryos in less than a heartbeat. Hummm.

  • hooptie1964 Jun 19, 2008

    Stem cells hold so much potential for helping save lives and healing injury.

    Too bad the religous right tries to stop science at every corner.