A few years ago, we witnessed the biotechnology industry’s first steps into bone regeneration; for instance, the University of Southern California was experimenting with stem cells to rebuild broken ribs. Now Michigan State University is learning the nuances of repairing more general bone fractures.
Kurt Hankenson is a Michigan State University veterinary scientist who specializes in bone regeneration. “My research looks at identifying ways of helping the body heal at any age and using different techniques to help fractures heal faster,” he says in an MSU article. Bone fractures take a notoriously long time to heal, if they are capable of healing at all. Dr. Hankenson has made two particularly noteworthy discoveries: a protein that inhibits the bone healing process and an internal pathway that promotes bone healing.
First, Hankenson and his team discovered a natural protein that is actually detrimental to bone regeneration. “Thrombospondin is produced to regulate the body’s vascular response to an injury,” says Hankenson. However, if too much of it is produced, the healing process gets significantly slowed down. Reducing the amount of thrombospondin in mice sped up bone regrowth without any detrimental effects, so the team is optimistic about repeating the experiment in humans.
Hankenson also found a chemical pathway that regulates the cells whose job it is to form bone. After some experimentation, he reported, “We can enhance this activity by activating this pathway with certain proteins that bind together.” Mouse studies have shown that this can actually accelerate the healing process.
This research was funded by $4.2 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Defense. For more information on the grants MSU earns with its outstanding research, peruse our free Funding Statistics report, below:
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