Sugar coated sweets

Sugar-coated nanomaterial promotes bone regeneration

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Promoting new bone growth in patients recovering from bone trauma, bone cancer or other complications has caused a headache for scientists for years, with no definitive method found. Northwestern University researchers have developed an effective new approach to regeneration which uses a sugar-coated nanomaterial to encourage stem cells to differentiate into bone.

Promoting bone regeneration is particularly vital after spinal fusion surgery, which joins the vertebra together with new bone. This type of surgery is becoming increasingly common in the US, as an ageing population requires treatment for back problems such as disc degeneration.

With no effective method for regenerating bone, the new bone required for this surgery is taken from a bone bank, or from a painful and invasive bone graft.

Scientists from Northwestern University, however, hope that their new approach to bone regeneration could become the “gold standard” in regrowth.

“Regenerative medicine can improve quality of life by offering less invasive and more successful approaches to promoting bone growth,” said Professor Samuel Strupp, director of Northwestern University’s Institute for Bionanotechnology, who led the development of the new material.

“Our method is very flexible and could be adopted for the regeneration of other tissues, including muscle, tendon and cartilage.”

The researchers studied the effect of the nanomaterial on the activity of a growth factor called bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2), which activates certain stem cells, and signals for them to differentiate into new bone cells.

The nanomaterial is made up of tiny nanoscale filaments, and acts as an extracellular matrix, which with cells interact. This matrix binds BMP-2 in a similar way to the natural sugars in our bodies do, and releases the growth factor slowly.

The sugar molecules on the surface of the nanomaterial “grabs” the growth factor when it is the right time to deploy the signal, potentiating the signals to a much higher level than occurs in nature. An animal model of spinal fusion demonstrated the new approach required 100 times less of the expensive growth factor to regenerate high-quality bone.

The nanomaterial is biodegradable, meaning that it does not have to be surgically removed from the body.

According to the researchers, this approach could be adapted to regenerate other types of tissue with small design changes. The team is planning to seek approval for a full clinical trial.

“There is a real need for a clinically efficacious, safe and cost-effective way to form bone,” said Professor Wellington Hsu, a spine surgeon involved in the study.

“The success of this nanomaterial makes me excited that every spine surgeon may one day subscribe to this method for bone graft.”

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