A Moment of Science

Bone “Magic”

If you suffer a serious bone break, to repair it, your surgeon might fuse small pieces of bone to the broken bone. Back pain surgeries sometimes involve a similar procedure. These small pieces of bone don’t come from a Petri dish. The bone has to be removed from your hips or a rib. Sound painful? It is. It’s an operation that can potentially lead to serious complications.

Now there may be a less painful and safer way to get that bone. Just make a tiny hole in the periosteum, the tough outer covering of a hip bone or other long bone. Inject saline water to loosen that outer layer from the rest of the bone, as well as create a hollow space. Next, remove the saline and insert a gel containing calcium. Believe it or not, that space will fill up with new bone. The new bone can be removed before it fuses with the old bone, making the removal less painful and leaving the old bone intact.

This procedure has so far been conducted only in rabbits, a species with bones similar to human bones. It’s worked so well, however, that researchers are hopeful that in addition to repairing broken bones, people with bone disease may be able to grow replacement bone in advance, so that it can be frozen until it’s needed.

The idea of growing bone to be used in surgery is not a new one. Scientists have attempted numerous times to grow bone outside of the body, as well as inside the body, but without success. What makes this procedure different, and successful, is that it relies on the body’s natural wound-healing response.

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