A pioneer in the field of regenerative engineering, UConn's Dr. Cato T. Laurencin is charging toward his goal of regenerating a human limb by the year 2030.
In a step toward reaching that goal, Dr. Laurencin and his team have detailed their success in regrowing bone using a plant-derived molecule in a recent study published by PNAS, marking a major step toward affordable, safe bone regeneration and growing replacement limbs.
Dr. Laurencin discussed this impressive breakthrough this week with Hearst Connecticut Media:
Most bone fractures heal reasonably well with care. But in severe breaks, where sections of bones are missing, or in crush injuries bones don’t always heal very well. In those cases, self-grafts or donated grafts of healthy bone from other, non-broken bones can be used to help close the gaps. But bone grafts don’t always take.
Since about 2001, recombinant bone morphogenic proteins have been used to help stimulate bone growth in injuries where bone wouldn’t otherwise heal but their use has limits. While they work on long bone fractures, like those in your limbs, they’re not used on more complex bones.
In some experimental treatments with fractured pelvises, recombinant bone protein caused bone tissue to form outside the skeleton. Forming bone tissue outside the skeleton is one of the more troubling side effects of this treatment.
Bone tissue engineering seeks to get around this by developing implants that use adult stem cells to direct the growth of new bone across breaks that bones could not heal on their own. Some of this work involves building custom implants designed to mimic the missing bone to guide bone healing. Others attempt to deliver the bone protein in an implant, stopping it from leaving the injury area, to prevent side effects.
These bone treatments are also expensive. In a meta-analysis from 2006, researchers found that they cost more than standard care for severe fractures.
But UConn team took a different approach, using the drug forskolin, a molecule derived from a plant in the mint family. Forskolin triggers cells to make something called “cyclic AMP” a messenger molecule that is normally made in response to hormones. This messenger molecule turns on a wide variety of cell functions depending on what cells in which locations it stimulates.
“We were intrigued by being able to find some natural material that people were already consuming in quantity,” said Dr. Laurencin, “But obviously there’s a difference between ingesting it and putting it on one location, like a bone site.”
Dr. Laurencin’s team created a biodegradable plastic implant impregnated with forskolin, testing this on rabbits. The implants guided the creation of new bone tissue after 12 weeks.
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Dr. Cato Laurencin, CEO of the Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn, is available to for interviews. Simply click on his icon now to arrange a time to talk today.