January 17, 2016

A new nanotechnology developed by researchers at the University of Michigan could help doctors improve treatment of patients with bone loss or trauma. (Image: Puwadol Jaturawutthichai/Shutterstock)

ANN ARBOR, Mich., USA: A new technology developed by researchers at the University of Michigan could help doctors improve treatment of patients with bone loss or trauma. The scientists have developed a polymer sphere that delivers a specific molecule to bone wounds that tells cells already at the injury site to repair the damage. Therefore, the nanotechnology could be applied in the treatment of osteoporosis, as well as in bone surgery and joint repair.

MicroRNA, a small noncoding RNA molecule found in plants, animals and some viruses, has shown promise in clinical research as a therapeutic agent for various diseases, such as cancer and inflammatory diseases. It might also be able to enhance bone regeneration, the current study has found.

When delivered into endogenous stem cells, the microRNA instructs the cells to switch on their healing and bone-building mechanisms, explained Dr. Peter Ma, Professor of Dentistry and lead researcher on the project. It is typically very difficult for microRNA to breach the cell wall, Ma said. However, the polymer sphere developed by Ma and his colleagues enables the RNA molecule to easily enter the cell and encourage bone repair.

The advantage of this new technology is that it uses existing cells to repair wounds and therefore reduces the need to introduce foreign cells, which is a very difficult therapy and can result in the host rejecting the foreign cells or the development of tumors.

Bone repair is especially challenging in patients with healing problems. Millions of patients worldwide suffer from bone loss and associated functional problems, but growing and regenerating high-quality bone for specific applications is still very difficult with current technology, according to the researchers.

“The new technology we have been working on opens doors for new therapies using DNA and RNA in regenerative medicine and boosts the possibility of dealing with other challenging human diseases,” Ma explained. In particular, it could help patients with osteoporosis, as well as those undergoing bone surgery or joint repair. Moreover, there are several possible applications in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery.

“Craniofacial bone trauma and disease are devastating to patients. Our work could lead to a substantially simpler way than other approaches to craniofacial bone repair and regeneration that require adding cells,” Ma told Surgical Tribune.

The paper, titled “Cell-free 3D scaffold with two-stage delivery of miRNA-26a to regenerate critical-sized bone defects,” was published online in the Nature Communications journal on Jan. 14.


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