Researchers Make Progress with New Method of Rebuilding Bone Tissue

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Researchers at McGill University have made advancements with a novel method for growing synthetic bone tissue.

McGill University announced on Feb. 15, 2022 that university researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to advance a novel method for growing synthetic bone tissue. The breakthrough comes after more than 30 years of the scientific community’s work on developing a synthetic alternative to bone grafts for repairing diseased or damaged bone.

Bone tissue engineering, a rapidly growing field, is focused on growing bone cells in the lab on scaffolds, then transferring these structures into a person’s body to repair bone damage. Like the bone it mimics, the scaffolds need an interconnected network of small and large pores that allow cells and nutrients to spread and help generate new bone tissue.

The McGill research team developed a way to modify the internal structure of a material, known as graphene oxide, to make the material more conducive to regenerating bone tissue. Graphene oxide is an ultrathin, extra-strong compound increasingly used in electronics, optics, chemistry, energy storage, and biology. Because of the material’s unique properties, stem cells tend to transform into bone-generating osteoblasts when placed on the graphene oxide.

The research team is a multidisciplinary group, comprising researchers from McGill’s Departments of Mining and Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Dentistry. The team found that adding an emulsion of oil and water to the graphene oxide, then freezing it at two different temperatures, yielded two different sizes of pores throughout the material.

When the now-porous scaffolding was “seeded” with stem cells from mouse bone marrow, the cells multiplied and spread inside the network of pores, which is a promising sign that the new approach could eventually be used to regenerate bone tissue in humans.

“We showed that the scaffolds are completely biocompatible, that the cells are happy when you put them in there, and that they’re able to penetrate all through the scaffold and colonize the whole scaffold,” said Marta Cerruti, a materials engineering professor at McGill University, in a company press release.


The researchers used the BioMedical Imaging and Therapy–bend magnet beamline at the CLS to visualize the different sized pores inside the scaffolding as well as the growth and spread of the cells.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that people have used synchrotron light to see the structure of graphene oxide scaffolds,” said lead researcher Yiwen Chen, who works under Cerruti.

Widespread clinical application of this new approach may still be many years away, but the work could enable other researchers to learn more about how stem cells morph into bone cells, according to Cerruti in the press release.

“Maybe this will lead to a better understanding of the biology of bones that we wouldn't understand otherwise,” Cerruti said in the press release. “Perhaps in the shorter term we can use the methods in the lab to better understand bone and perhaps develop new drugs.”

Source: Canadian Light Source