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Fat cells heal skull defects in mice, Stanford research shows

w bone to bridge the defect. In contrast, cells derived from tissue that covers the brain showed no bone growth during the same time period.

The new bone growth began next to the brain, suggesting those cells were sending out bone growth-promoting signals and emphasizing the importance of the local environment in determining cell fate.

"The analogy is one of seeds and soil," said Longaker. "The cells are the seeds, and the soil that enables them to form bone consists of the scaffolding and the signals of neighboring cells."

Because more than 95 percent of the new bone growth was made up of implanted cells, researchers speculate the fat-derived cells either became bone themselves, as they have done in the laboratory, or fused with existing bone-making cells in the host to spur new growth.

If the researchers' findings can be reproduced in humans, they may lead to new, more effective and biologically gentle ways to promote healing of tricky fractures and skeletal defects.

"After age 2, you don't re-engineer a defect in your skull," said Longaker. "Currently, surgeons use bone grafts from the patient's ribs or split other parts of the skull horizontally to gain enough bone to cover the area. Alternatively, they can rely on plastic or metal inserts. But all of these options can give you problems with infection and healing, and can be invasive and technically difficult."

Other conditions that might benefit from the use of the multipotent cells include joint replacement, spinal fusion, osteoporosis and osteomyelitis, a bacterial infection of the bone.

"As more people are active in sports and live longer, the wear and tear on joints is obvious," said Longaker. "The non-human tissue we use to replace joints may last 10 to 20 years if it's well integrated. Our hope is that we could do better by replacing that with your own tissue. The key to this type of regenerative medicine is to understand the dev
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Contact: Robert Dicks
rdicks@stanfordmed.org
650-497-8364
Stanford University Medical Center
4-May-2004


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