New York City-based startup EpiBone focuses on an alternative to painful grafts by engineering 3D structures of living bones made from patients’ own stem cells.
With bone being the most widely transplanted human tissue after blood, researchers worldwide focus on bone reconstruction using artificial structures created in the lab. Currently, the standard treatment for bone loss due to illness or an accident is to use autografts, which are cut outs of the patient’s own bones, usually the hip.
EpiBone aims at engineering patient-specific lab grown bone structures by using stem cells derived from the patient’s fat cells. A CT scan is performed to calculate the custom 3D scaffold that is then being infused with the stem cells. The structure is then put into a bioreactor for three weeks to simulate the conditions in a human body. This is where the stem cells will transform into bone-growing cells, also called osteoblasts, and colonise the scaffold. The result is a custom implant that most likely will not be rejected due to being made of the patient’s own cells.
While EpiBone has successfully tested their method on pigs and other animals, human trials have not started yet. “Lots of research remains to be done before we place the first personalized, lab-grown bone into a patient,” CEO Nina Tandon said. She further explains: “If we can work in concert with living cells to grow bone, we might also adapt cells to groundbreaking new uses in other realms of medicine, or even entirely different fields, such as architecture, art and fashion.”