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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Coral heals serious fractures
Coral has similarities to bone
Ocean coral may be able to help mend broken bones, say researchers.

Scientists have successfully used coral to help heal severe bone fractures which the body could not repair naturally.

Orthopaedic surgeons use a technique called bone grafting to repair fractured or defective bones.

The procedure usually involves removing bone from one part of the patient's body and transferring it to another.

It could be of great help in clinical situations where surgeons have massive bone defects to fill such after the removal of a bone tumor

Dr Herve Petite, Laboratoire de Recherches Orthopediques

This is often painful and can lead to complications.

Large bone defects in particular can be difficult to treat because scarring, rather than healing, occurs when fractures are large.

A team from Laboratoire de Recherches Orthopediques in Paris attempted to treat such defects using grafts of sea coral implanted with bone cells.

Bone-lie qualities

Sea coral naturally contains calcium carbonate and possesses a porous architecture not unlike natural bone.

The researchers showed that it could be used to grow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a kind of primitive cell derived from bone marrow that can be easily grown in culture.

Sheep with 25 mm lesions in their hoof bones were then implanted with the coral scaffolds alone or with coral scaffolds infiltrated with either expanded MSCs or fresh bone marrow.

After four weeks, the coral had biodegraded. After 16 weeks, the fractures of sheep implanted with MSC/coral scaffolds showed extensive bone remodelling and in some cases fusion with the native bone either side of the implant.

In contrast, untreated animals and animals with grafts of coral alone or coral loaded with fresh bone marrow failed to heal the fracture.

Lead researcher Dr Herve Petite told BBC News Online: "Such a technique could avoid the harvest of bone which can lead to infection, blood loss and cosmetic disabilities.

"It could be of great help in clinical situations where surgeons have massive bone defects to fill such after the removal of a bone tumor."

Dr Petite said clinical trials on humans could start within several years.

The research is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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