The human body is a truly amazing machine. It’s designed to function autonomously, with all your organs and internal functions operating by rote. All you have to do is provide the machine the fuel it needs, make sure it doesn’t get clogged by fat or toxins, and give it time to rest. The body is mostly self-repairing as well. Medical intervention is required for the most serious of injuries (broken bones, deep lacerations), but the human body literally rebuilds itself at the cellular level.
Stem cells play a large role in the repair of your body. Stem cells trigger the growth of new skin and tissue cells. Without them, a lot of your internal functions would cease working. According to an early 2017 study, they may even be able to work like a living bandage and repair more serious wounds that would otherwise not heal on their own.
A team of researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Liverpool has begun testing the prototype of the Cell Bandage, a lab-grown strip of tissue made from the patients’ own stem cells. After two weeks of growing, the “bandage” is seeded onto a membrane scaffold and grafted onto the injured site. In the case of this study, the injuries were primarily meniscal tears (knee injuries).
Intraoperative arthroscopic images from one patient showing the method of implantation of human-mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)/collagen-scaffold. (A): Photograph of a bucket handle tear in the white zone (avascular) meniscus with radial extension following reduction of tear. (B): The first stage of treatment is positioning of a vertical mattress suture, loosely across the tear. (C): The human-MSC/collagen-scaffold inserted through the arthroscope and then (D) inserted into the lesion (arrow). (E): The suture is pulled tight to close the meniscal tissue around the human-MSC/collagen-scaffold. (F): Lesion site at the end of the implantation procedure with the human-MSC/collagen-scaffold fixed in position in the middle of the sutured tear.
One year after the surgical implantation of the Cell Bandage, the five patients tested had an intact meniscus. By the end of the second year, three of the patients had a fully intact meniscus and knee functionality had returned to normal. (Note: The other two patients re-injured their meniscus, voiding the results of the study.)
What makes this discovery so awesome is the severity of the injuries treated. Meniscal tears are a highly common injury among rugby, football, and other high-impact sports athletes. In the majority of cases, the ruptured tissue is simply removed, as the chance of it healing completely on its own is slim. While removing the damaged tissue can restore a good deal of knee function, it’s never quite the same. The surgery also increases the risk of osteoarthritis down the line.
But with this new Cellular Bandage (produced by a company named Azellon), the damaged tissue was repaired fully. Best of all, it was done without the need for reconstructive surgery. The stem cells were harvested from the patients, and two weeks later, were used to repair the damage.
This not only promises a bright future for joint injuries, but may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of severe burns, organ damage, and the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be amazing if these lab-cultivated stem cells enabled doctors to repair the most severe injuries?
1. Michael R. Whitehouse, Nicholas R. Howells, Michael C. Parry, Eric Austin, Wael Kafienah, Kyla Brady, Allen E. Goodship, Jonathan D. Eldridge, Ashley W. Blom, Anthony P. Hollander, “Repair of Torn Avascular Meniscal Cartilage Using Undifferentiated Autologous Mesenchymal Stem Cells: From In Vitro Optimization to a First-in-Human Study,” Stem Cells Translational Medicine, doi: 10.1002/sctm.16-0199, published 15 December 2016.