Grown bone

Put away your Skele-gro, because growing new bones might be the realm of science, not magic.

Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology and Radboud University Medical Center, in The Netherlands, have grown the most life-like piece of bone tissue to date, using human stem cells.

“With this, we present, for the first time, the full picture of early-stage bone formation,” says Sandra Hofmann of Eindhoven University of Technology.

Key research points

  • Most life-like piece of bone tissue grown in a petri dish.
  • Bone cells were grown from human stem cells.
  • Organoid contained multiple cell types.
  • This could be used to learns the molecular process of bone growth.

Bones are very complex materials that require both a precise matrix of collagen and mineral and intricate cells and cellular processes. Together, this means that growing actual bones is a multi-faceted process.

In their paper, published in Advanced Functional Materials, the team demonstrates a life-like bone organoid – a simple, miniature version of a cell – with three important bone cells: osteoblasts (tissue builders), osteoclasts (old tissue disposers) and osteocytes (regulators of this build up and breakdown).

“Most studies so far have focused on one of these types of cells, but that is not a good representation of the real tissue,” says Hofmann.

“We present here a piece of woven bone (early-stage bone) that developed from stem cells and contains two types of these cells: osteoblasts and osteocytes.

“We now see that we can make lifelike bone exclusively with these two cell types.”

The organoid may provide a better look at the intricate molecular processes that go into bone development, to more precisely learn how to grow a bone.

“A bone consists of 99% collagen and minerals, but there is also another 1% of proteins that are essential for successful bone formation,” says Nico Sommerdijk, from Radboud University Medical Center.

“So, what’s the role of these proteins? How do they support bone formation? Never before have we been able to look at the milestones of this process at a molecular level.”

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Internal structure of a bone. 3 types of cells are found within bone tissue. Credit: ttsz / Getty Images.

This work may also provide an ethical model for experiments to determine the causes of bone disease.

“Remember that the origin of many diseases is at the molecular level – and so is the treatment,” says Radboud’s Anat Akiva.

“In fact, we now have a simple system in a reliable environment in which we can poke around and see how bone cells react to the stimuli we provide.”

3D-printed bones:

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