Possible to grow bone by "nanokicking" stem cells: Scientists

Last Updated: Apr 04, 2013, 19:01 PM IST

London: Researchers in the UK have claimed that it is possible to grow a new bone by "nanokicking" stem cells 1,000 times per second using high frequency vibrations, and this may lead to new therapies for orthopaedic conditions.

The team, led by researchers at the University of Glasgow, hope that nanokicking may lead to a fundamental change in the way a new bone is grown.

The new technique is cheaper and easier to implement than current technologies and it is hoped that it may lead to new therapies for orthopaedic conditions such as spinal traumas, osteoporosis and stress fractures.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are naturally produced by the human body and have the potential to differentiate into a range of specialised cell types such as bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon and muscle.

Scientists can isolate the mesenchymal stem cells and, by replicating environment cues that occur naturally within the body, grow specialised cells and new tissue in the laboratory.

However, getting stem cells to differentiate correctly is notoriously difficult and current methods rely on expensive and highly engineered materials or complex cocktails of chemicals.

The new technique makes use of the fact that when individual bone cells stick together to form new bone tissue, the cell membranes of each cell vibrate.

It is thought that vibrating the stem cells at this frequency encourages `communication` between the cells and promotes bone formation.

Scientists can replicate this vibration by `kicking` the stem cells in the lab around 5-30 nanometres in distance 1,000 times a second.

The team measured the strength and frequency of the kicks using an incredibly precise measuring technique called laser interferometry which amongst other things is used to detect tiny ripples in space-time caused by gravitational waves.

The project brings together cell engineers, Prof Adam Curtis and Dr Matthew Dalby at the University of Glasgow, and astrophysicist, Dr Stuart Reid at the University of the West of Scotland, in a unique collaboration of very different disciplines.

Dalby from the Centre for Cell Engineering at the University of Glasgow said: "This new observation provides a simple method of converting adult stem cells from the bone marrow into bone-making cells on a large scale without the use of cocktails of chemicals or recourse to challenging and complex engineering".

"Multidisciplinary research is tricky as researchers need to learn new scientific languages, however, this collaboration between cell biologists and astrophysicists, an unlikely pairing, has yielded new insight as to how bone stem cells work," he said.