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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Surgery hope for 'bone on demand'
X-rays showing bones
Surgeons currently use bones from the ribs and hip to treat bad breaks
Scientists believe a breakthrough may lead to bone being grown on demand for people with bone diseases and breaks.

US researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt University grew new bone next to old bone in experiments on rabbits.

Surgeons currently rely on taking bone from other parts of the body to mend serious breaks.

The findings are due to be published next week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Prasad Shastri said: "We have shown that we can grow predictable volumes of bone on demand.

"And we did so by persuading the body to do what it already knows how to do."

What is proving difficult is to ensure the bone is hard enough to take the pressure it needs to
Jay Meswania, of University College London

The team said the technique could lead to replacement bone being grown and frozen to help treat degenerative bone disease.

And the team also claimed it could help during operations on serious breaks as the current technique, which generally involves breaking bone from the rib or hip, can be painful.

The technique uses the body's own natural wound-healing response, which allows broken and fractured bones to knit together, by creating a space around the healthy bone and encouraging growth.

The researchers created this space by pumping salty water into the gap between the periosteum - a thin outer layer which covers bones - and the bone itself.

The water was then replaced with a calcium gel, which triggers bone growth, and within six weeks the space - dubbed "in vivo bioreactor" - had filled with bone.

The bone was then removed before it fused with the old bone.


Gary Keenan, a consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary, said the results were "interesting" but were unlikely to transform surgery as they did not have tangible benefits over modern techniques.

And he added: "You also have to remember animal bones are very different from human ones."

Jay Meswania, of the centre for bio-medical engineering at University College London, said scientists across the world were developing methods to grow new bone.

But he added: "What is proving difficult is to ensure the bone is hard enough to take the pressure it needs to. That is what we have to establish."

Trevor Reid, of the National Osteoporosis Society, said the research could "eventually lead to benefits for people living with osteoporosis".

"Many people suffer terrible pain as a result of broken bones because of this fragile bone disease. We will watch with interest for further research into this area."

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