One of the most challenging medical conditions is serious loss of tissue. Unlike certain animals, humans have only a limited capacity for regrowing missing body parts, which is how the science of auto-grafting has been developed. Moving tissue from one part of the body to another is still complicated though – but pioneering research from Israel may be about to make it easier.
Autografting revolves around replacing a missing piece of the body with another. For example, if there has been a significant loss of bone in a hip or knee which means that section of the skeleton can no longer repair itself, a piece of rib could be grafted in instead. The key to success is the supporting infrastructure of soft tissue and blood vessels that enables the bone to heal. This material therefore also needs to be transplanted from one area of the body to the other.
This is the issue that Professor Shulamit Levenberg is taking on. Levenberg works in the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology. Along with her colleagues, she is part of a lab that is looking to grow this specialised tissue in vats so that it can be used for auto-grafting. This lab has now successfully built soft tissue with blood vessels from dental pulp, which is the material inside teeth. The stem cells from the dental pulp help blood vessels to form, supporting tissue growth and healing.
This new procedure has been trialled in repairing a bone defect in rats, inserting specially cultivated tissue rather than the traditional method of using existing tissue from another part of the body. This new tissue is deemed to have been more effective in enabling the surgery to heal, whilst also not needing to create another wound in order to extract material to be transplanted, as is usually the case.
In the future, this research could allow patients to receive bespoke bone and tissue matter created in vats, rather than needing to remove it from another part of their body. Where this to be case, it would represent another significant contribution to medical science by the Technion. Since 1912, the academic institution has been at the forefront of spearheading Israel’s scientific endeavours. Israel today is the country with the highest percentage of scientists and engineers – and the majority of them studied at the Technion, home to three of Israel’s five science Nobel Laureates.
Alan Aziz, CEO of Technion UK, commented: “Being able to grow your own replacements for missing body parts in a lab might sound like science fiction, but it may soon become reality thanks to pioneering research at the Technion – and that’s the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth!”