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By: Brittany Da Silva
It seems like something straight out of a science fiction film, but researchers in Scotland have discovered a way to grow bones in a laboratory. Eva the dog would have had her whole leg amputated, if not for these brilliant researchers. This revelation could have a huge impact on the lives of animals and humans around the world.
Over a year ago, one of Eva’s front legs was broken when she was hit by a car. She received treatment from the University of Glasgow’s Small Animal Hospital, however, a persistent infection prevented Eva’s leg from properly healing. As a result, the veterinarians caring for her had to remove some of her bone tissue, which left a two-centimeter space in the bone of her right foreleg. Due to the resulting discomfort that this caused Eva, it seemed like amputation was the only option left.
As luck would have it, the University of Glasgow was also engaged in synthetic bone research, funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find A Better Way. Since January of 2017, project leaders Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez and Professor Matt Dalby of Glasgow University had begun their research into synthetically grown bone tissue. It was by chance that William Marshall, Clinician in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, found out about this research. Among the many technologies that were being studied, Mr. Marshall was particularly interested in one that could encourage the growth of new bone tissue in areas where it would not naturally regenerate.
Professor Salmeron-Sanchez had discovered a way to synthetically grow bone by taking bone chips and coating them in a mixture of BMP-2, a naturally occurring protein, and polyethyl acrylate, which held the BMP-2 in place. Mr. Marshall took this mixture of bone, protein, and plastic material, inserting it into the two-centimeter space that had been left in Eva’s leg. This method of synthetically growing bone was the first of its kind, never having been attempted before. Fortunately for Eva, the treatment was a huge success. In as little as seven weeks, Eva was on the road to a full recovery from her injuries and narrowly escaped amputation.
At the outset of this study, the synthetically grown bone tissue was intended for use in treating landmine blast survivors, however, researchers were years away from human trials. Due to Eva’s dire situation, Professor Salmeron-Sanchez and Professor Dalby were given the opportunity to test one of their regeneration techniques on a living subject, thus learning more about the potential of this new treatment. Researchers might still be years away from getting approval for its use in humans, but the success of this treatment in Eva has thrilled everyone involved and given the team hope for the future.
Continuing the work of the late Princess Diana, these emerging treatments can change the lives of landmine victims worldwide. By developing new techniques for synthetically growing bone tissue, surgeons will one day have more options when treating landmine blast survivors. With more bone tissue, doctors will be able to reconstruct larger portions of damaged limbs, thus improving the quality of life for survivors.