Making Cartilage to Heal Broken Bones


Gage Crump and his colleagues at the University of Southern California have used the regeneration of zebrafish jawbone to demonstrate that the regeneration of damaged bones does not necessarily require a recapitulation of the same processes that occur during embryonic development. Even though this work used zebrafish as a model system, it may provide some of the underlying principles for treating difficult fractures.

Cartilage production is critical for healing full-thickness bone injuries. In order to understand how this bone-producing cartilage is generated, Crump and his coworkers turned to the genetically malleable and relatively more simple zebrafish system. Zebrafish are vertebrates, like humans, but these animals retain a remarkable capacity to regenerate many of their organs.

When human bones fracture, a small cartilage callus forms that is replaced by bone that bridges small, but not large, gaps in the bone.

In zebrafish, however, the cartilage callus continues to expand and fills even very large gaps in broken bones. This cartilage is replaced throughout the bone by bone. This allows zebrafish to heal even very large fractures.

These days, patients with severe bone fractures may have a surgeon insert metal pins and even plates to help set bone. In more severe cases, bone grafts are used to span gaps, and stem cell-based treatments have been tested in a few clinical trials as well.

About six million people in the U.S. suffer bone breaks each year, and even though most of these patients recover fully, about 300,000 are slow to heal and some may not heal at all. Complications include post-traumatic arthritis, growth abnormalities, delayed union and misaligned union.

Hundreds of professional football players have invested in stem cell treatments to treat injuries, even though the evidence for the efficacy of such treatments is, sometimes, sparse. One report even tells of an NFL linebacker who paid $6,000 for a 1-milliliter vial of donated placenta tissue containing stem cells to be injected into his injured knee.

The bone surface contains thin lining called the “periosteum” that contains a stem cell population that helps maintain bone mass throughout one’s life. In Gage’s laboratory, his team identified a gene called Indian Hedgehog a (IHHa), which is responsible for inducing these periosteal stem cells to switch from bone production to cartilage production. Mutant zebrafish strains that lack the IHHa gene are unable to make cartilage in response to bone injury and heal poorly from bone fractures.

Periosteum

Crump said that an “exciting finding from our work is that, somewhat counterintuitively, cartilage is critical for healing full thickness bone injuries. By understanding how this bone-producing cartilage is generated in the simpler zebrafish model, we hope to find ways to create more of this unique cartilage tissue in patients to better heal their bones.”

According to this paper, which was published in the journal Development, 2016; dev.131292 DOI: 10.1242/dev.121292; instead of the more traditional approach of using bone cells or bone-like materials to heal broken bones, stimulating endogenous bone-based stem cells that make this special kind of fracture-healing cartilage might be a more effective strategy.

Stem Cells from Bone Marrow Help Heal Hard-to-Heal Bone Fractures


A new study that has appeared in the journal STEM CELLS Translational Medicine demonstrates the potential of a subset of stem cells called CD34+ in treating stubborn bone fractures that prove hard to heal.

The body has mechanisms for the repair of broken bones. Consequently, most patients recover from broken bones with little or no complication. However, up to 10 percent of all fracture patients experience fractures that refuse to heal. Such heard to heal fractures can lead to several debilitating side effects that include infection and bone loss, and the healing of hard to heal fractures often requires extensive treatment that includes multiple operations and prolonged hospitalization as well as long-term disability.

Regenerating broken bones with stem cells could offer an answer to this medical conundrum. Adult human peripheral blood CD34+ cells have been shown to contain a robust population of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) and hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to all types of blood cells. These two types of stem cells might be good candidates for this therapy.

However, while other types of stem cells have been tested for their bone regeneration potential, the ability of CD34+ stem cells to facilitate bone healing has not been examined; that is until now. A phase I/II clinical study that evaluated the capacity of CD34+ to stimulate bone regeneration was published in the current edition of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine. This study was conducted by researchers at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine, led by Tomoyuki Matsumoto, M.D., and Ryosuke Kuroda, M.D., members of the university’s department of orthopedic surgery and its Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation (IBRI).

Matsumoto’s and Kuroda’s study was designed to evaluate the safety, feasibility and efficacy of autologous and G-CSF-mobilized CD34+cells in patients with non-healing leg bone breaks that had not healed in nine months. Seven patients were treated with CD34+ stem cells after receiving bone grafts.

In case you were wondering, G-CSF is a drug that releases stem cells from the bone marrow into the blood. It is given by injection or intravenously, and works rather well to mobilize bone marrow stem cells into the peripheral circulation.  It has clinical uses for patients recovering from chemotherapy.  Filgrastim (Neupogen) and PEG-filgrastim (Neulasta) are two commercially-available forms of recombinant G-CSF.

“Bone union was successfully achieved in every case, confirmed as early as 16.4 weeks on average after treatment,” Dr. Kuroda said.

Dr. Matsumoto added, “Neither deaths nor life-threatening adverse events were observed during the one year follow-up after the cell therapy. These results suggest feasibility, safety and potential effectiveness of CD34+ cell therapy in patients with nonunion.”

Atsuhiko Kawamoto, MD, Ph.D., a collaborator in IBRI, said, “Our team has been conducting translational research of CD34+ cell-based vascular regeneration therapy mainly in cardiovascular diseases. This promising outcome in bone fracture opens a new gate of the bone marrow-derived stem cell application to other fields of medicine.”

Although the study documents a relatively small number of patients, the results suggest the feasibility, safety and potential effectiveness of CD34+ cell therapy in patients with non-healing breaks,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.