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Repair cartilage potentially can heal broken bones.

LOS ANGELES, Calif., May 11, 2016 -- Hundreds of NFL players have invested in using stem cells to treat injuries, a new article reports. The publication revealed one NFL linebacker "paid $6,000 a pop for a 1-milliliter vial of donated placenta tissue containing stem cells to be injected into each of his beat-up knees."

But new research shows that stem cells could one day be stimulated to make a special type of cartilage to help repair large, hard-to-heal bone fractures, a potential boon for doctors treating big-money athletes, USC researchers say.

Gage Crump and his colleagues used the regeneration of zebrafish jawbone to show that the processes required for embryonic development are not necessarily repeated during regeneration of damaged body parts like fractured bones.

Cartilage is critical for healing full-thickness bone injuries.

By understanding how this bone-producing cartilage is generated in the simpler zebrafish model, it may be possible to create more of this unique cartilage tissue in patients to better heal their bones.

Zebrafish are vertebrates that have bones like humans but differ because they have the remarkable ability to regenerate many of their organs. When human bones fracture, a limited cartilage callus forms and is replaced by bone that bridges small but not large gaps.

In zebrafish, however, the researchers found that the cartilage callus continued to expand and filled very large bone gaps. Remarkably, this cartilage then changed into bone throughout the large lesion.

Today people who have severe bone fractures may have a surgeon insert metal pins and plates to help set bone, undergo bone grafts or buy into the still-developing practice of adding stem cells to the injured area to rush recovery.

About six million people in the U.S. break a bone each year. Although most people recover fully, about 300,000 are slow to heal or do not heal at all with traditional methods. Complications include post-traumatic arthritis, growth abnormalities, delayed union and misaligned union.

The surface of bones has a thin lining of stem cells that help maintain bone mass throughout life. USC researchers identified a gene, called indian hedgehog a (ihha), responsible for giving the okay to stem cells to shift from making bone to making cartilage that will repair broken bones.

Zebrafish lacking this gene are unable to make cartilage in response to bone injury, and they heal poorly.

Traditionally, the therapeutic approach to healing bone has been to use bone cells or bone-like materials. This work suggests that, at least for large-scale repair, stimulating stem cells to make a special kind of cartilage might be more effective.

Citation: Sandeep Paul et al., Ihha induces hybrid cartilage-bone cells during zebrafish jawbone regeneration. Development, 2016; dev.131292 DOI: 10.1242/dev.131292


Contact: J. Gage Crump,

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Title Annotation:Basic Research
Publication:Stem Cell Research News
Date:May 23, 2016
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