Dr. Liping Tang, bioengineering chair and professor at UT Arlington, and Dr. Joseph Borrelli, chair of orthopedics at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, are working together to solve the problem of healing bone fractures and augmenting bone growth after osteomyelitis. The gold-standard current means of repairing (for example) a complex tibia fracture is to remove a piece of the iliac crest and place it in the defect either alone or with a combination of proteins to encourage new bone growth. This grafting procedure, known as autologous bone grafting, has a 25% complication rate. Drs. Tang and Borrelli are looking to curtail this rate and reduce medical costs by eliminating this technique and replacing it with their newly-developed technique. “In the future, a physician will be able to inject the scaffolding material with the ideal protein into the area where the patient’s bone needs to grow or repair, and the patient’s cells will never have to leave the body,” said Dr. Borelli in a news release. “It will cut down on cost. It will cut down on surgery time. It will enhance patient comfort, too.”
The new technique, detailed in the journal PLoS ONE, may at first seem similar to previous work involving autologous bone repair. A poly (l-lactic acid) (PLLA) scaffold, bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2), and cells were combined and assessed for bone production in mice. But what makes this work unique is the source of the cells: the mouse’s own peritoneal cells. This idea stemmed from previous observations of ectopic ossification of the peritoneum following traumatic splenic rupture or peritonitis: it seemed as though mesenchymal stem cells recruited to the site of inflammation differentiated into osteolineage cells.
To exploit this observation, the research team characterized peritoneal fluid cells and subsequently placed them in PLLA scaffolds. These scaffolds, as well as cell-free scaffolds, were placed in the peritoneum of mice and resected after 6 hours and after 2, 6, and 12 weeks of growth. Significant levels of osteogenic proteins and mineralization were evident in both types of scaffolds, indicating the ability of peritoneum-derived cells to produce bone. “This research will help us to formalize a specific type of scaffolding mixture that could eliminate the use of current bone grafting techniques,” concluded Dr. Borrelli.
This innovative research was made possible by the team’s strong collaboration. “Partners like Texas Health Arlington Memorial keep our researchers focused on goals that will help people,” said Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering. “The work by Dr. Tang and Dr. Borrelli holds the promise of a medical advancement that can save patients time and money and improve treatment.” Added Kirk King, president of Texas Health Arlington Memorial, “We couldn’t think of a better collaborative project to be a part of. By working with talented individuals at UT Arlington, we’re helping advance science with the ultimate goal of enhancing health care to improve an individual’s quality of life. It’s a challenging task but one we’ll be honored to see come to fruition.” Funding from the hospital also enabled this research, as well as other clinically relevant projects. The team believes their new technique involving a scaffold and peritoneum-derived cells could become a future outpatient procedure.