discoveries magazine

Mend the Gap


Illustration: Joey Guidone

What if you could coax broken bones to regrow their own tissue? A pioneering method combining stem cells and gene therapy may do just that.

Severe fractures often create gaps too large for the bone to bridge on its own. Such injuries require grafting — implanting pieces of bone from the patient or a donor — but the method can cause enduring pain and hospitalization, or imperfect healing.

In a promising preclinical study, a Cedars-Sinai team implanted a matrix of collagen, a protein the body uses to build bones, into the gap between two sides of a leg fracture. The team found that the matrix recruited bone stem cells to the area. Investigators then delivered a bone-inducing gene into the cells. Eight weeks later, the gap was closed.

“This breakthrough technique might make all the difference for the patients of tomorrow,” says Gadi Pelled, PhD, assistant professor of Surgery at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s co-senior author.