The researchers, based at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, think their work could lead to significant improvement in the care of people with severe skull or face trauma. They say they were able to regenerate skull bone and supporting blood vessels just where they needed to go, surpassing previous bone regrowth methods in speed.
Surgeons often treat skull and facial injuries by grafting bone from other parts of the body of the people they are treating. They harvest bone from the pelvis, ribs or elsewhere. The bone grafting is painful, and it becomes increasingly difficult the larger the graft becomes or the more contoured it needs to be.
The Northwestern University and University of Chicago researchers think their work could someday make such bone grafting obsolete. Their method involved harvesting mouse skull cells and engineering them to produce a protein, BMP9, that promotes bone growth. They then delivered and contained the new cells in the affected area using a hydrogel. The hydrogel, developed by Northwestern biomedical engineering and surgery professor Guillermo Ameer, acted as a temporary scaffold while the engineered skull cells did their job.