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Success In Using Fat Cells To Mend Bone

Biologists have discovered that adipose tissue (fat) is a natural storehouse of cells with healing properties.

According to a report in Science News, difference research groups are exploring the possibility of  using cells found in fat to help other parts of the human body to heal.

In particular, the University of Pittsburgh have been extracting fat from volunteers and converting the liposuctioned material into tissue that resembles cartilage. The immediate aim is to use the modified material to help mend broken bones. A longer term aim is to help with conditions like osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage in the joints). In addition, skeletal defects due to trauma, tumours, infection, genetic diseases, and abnormal development often require bone transplantation.

The reason this is possible is because fat is a rich source of stem cells (stem cells have the potential to become any other type of human body cell, and could become bone, cartilage or muscle). Thus stem cells act as some type of ‘body self-repair kit’. Stem cells are thought to make up around 10 percent of fat tissue (however, it remains unknown why these cells are found in such high quantities in fat). Stem cells are relatively easy to harvest from liposuctioned fat.

Research so far has been undertaken using animals, with few studies to date conducted on people. Trials involving will be the next step, leading to the far-derived bone mending material becoming a conventional medical practice.

As an example of the research, see the journal Tissue Engineering. There is an interesting paper titled “Bone Grafts Engineered from Human Adipose-Derived Stem Cells in Perfusion Bioreactor Culture.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Paul Wallis

    Can’t help wondering – Fat is stored as a reserve, so maybe it’s the default instant-access medical cabinet for storing other things, too? There has to be some sort of logical dynamic. If so, however, that could make access to stem cells infinitely easier.

  • Susan

    could this be used to create cartilage for knees?