IF a lover breaks your heart, tissue engineers can’t fix it. But if sticks and stones break your bones, scientists may be able to grow custom-size replacements.
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, has solved one of many problems on the way to successful bone implants: how to grow new bones in the anatomical shape of the original.
Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic and her research team have created and nourished two small bones from scratch in their laboratory. The new bones, part of a joint at the back of the jaw, were created with human stem cells. The shape is based on digital images of undamaged bones.
Tissue-engineered bones have many implications, according to a leading figure in the field, Dr. Charles A. Vacanti, director of the laboratories for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He has no connection to the Columbia work. “If your imaging equipment has sufficient high resolution, you can construct virtually any intricate shape you want — for example, the middle ear bone, creating an exact duplicate,” he said. “It’s a splendid example of tissue engineering at its best.”