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Bones from blood: scientists aim to break new ground on fractures


Scientists at the University of York have launched a new research project which aims to develop ways of making bones from blood.

Researchers from the University’s Department of Biology are heading the EC-backed project to create bone structures from cord blood stem cells for use in the repair of bone defects and fractures.

The three-year €2.5 million research project involves scientists in the UK and across Europe, as well as academics from the University of York’s Departments of Sociology and Philosophy, who will carry out sociological and ethical evaluations of the work. The project will seek to find a viable new medical use for the two million units of cord blood banked in Europe, and currently used for transfusions and treating leukaemia.

Biologist Dr Paul Genever, who is co-ordinating the project, said: “The mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in cord blood appear similar to bone marrow stem cells but they are hard to locate. We aim to isolate and expand them so we have enough cells to use in therapies.

“We also want to compare them with bone marrow and embryonic stem cells and investigate how we can turn them into bone structures for use as 3D bone replacements.”

Dr Genever said if the creation of bone structures from stem cells proves viable, it might be used for cell-based therapies to repair bone defects and fractures. Ultimately, bone structures developed in this way could be used to make hip replacements more durable.

“The participation of colleagues from Sociology and Philosophy in a project such as this offers the opportunity for us to explore a more ethically and socially integrated kind of biology,” he added.

Professor Andrew Webster and Dr Nik Brown, of the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU) in the Department of Sociology, will link the scientific questions of MSC isolation and expansion to the wider environment and define potential barriers and areas of weakness in their use. They will consider questions such as safety and standards, commercial viability, potential investment, consensus amongst scientists and clinical distribution.

Dr Stephen Holland and Professor Tom Baldwin, of the Department of Philosophy, will carry out an ethical evaluation of the research. This will include making sure that the project is conducted according to the highest standards of research governance. They will also investigate how the project contributes to the debate about the ethics of stem cell research. In particular, they will consider how potential benefits of these stem cell therapies can be weighed against ethical concerns."

David Garner | alfa
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