| research/study

Spinal Fusion Procedures: Stem Cells Aid in Bone Formation, Healing

Findings from Animal Research May Improve Treatment for Bone Breaks, Osteoporosis

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine report that they have isolated a cellular protein, WISP-1, that can be manipulated to control the developmental activity of perivascular stem cells, influencing them to favor either bone building or fat formation. The discovery could become a major advance in speeding surgical recovery and fracture healing, as well as help to forestall bone loss from aging injury or disease, according to the findings. Senior author Aaron James, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, commented, “Our bones have a limited pool of stem cells to draw from to create new bone. If we could coax these cells toward a bone cell fate and away from fat, it would be a great advancement in our ability to promote bone health and healing.” The results of the team’s work were published online in the journal Scientific Reports.

The team tested the effect of WISP-1 on the developmental direction of perivascular stem cells by genetically engineering the cells to either block or advance production of the protein. In cells that lacked WISP-1, they found a 50% to 200% increase in the activity of 4 genes that promote fat formation, as compared to control cells. When WISP-1 levels were elevated, 3 genes that control bone formation became twice as active. Working with rat models, the researchers introduced stem cells with elevated WISP-1 into rats that underwent spinal fusion. In comparison to similarly treated rats that did not receive the WISP-1 enhanced cells, the first group exhibited greater levels of bone formation. Commenting on the implications for improving outcomes for human spinal fusion procedures, of which some 391,000 are performed in the US annually, Dr. James remarked, “Such a procedure requires a massive amount of new bone cells. If we could direct bone cell creation at the site of the fusion, we could help patients recover more quickly and reduce the risk of complications.”

Read about the findings.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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