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Ongoing research at Stony Brook University may lead to drastic changes in the way doctors think about bone growth and repair.

Though relatively strong, bones often pass through an array of traumas over the course of a lifetime. Fractures, breaks and recession are just a few of the many ailments people and animals face when considering bone health. Bodies often fail to repair such faults sans medical intervention.

Extremely traumatic breaks or instances of bone loss frequently call for the use of bone grafts – structural supports implanted and used as scaffolds or as an impetus for bone growth in vivo. Bone grafts can come from one’s own body, a donor source or commercial synthesization. Bone grafts allow for the reparation of otherwise complicated and possibly life-threatening bone damage. However, repair with bone grafting can take an uncomfortably long time. In some cases of dental bone grafting, up to a year or more may be necessary for complete reconstitution of stable bone.

Researchers at Dr. Julio Carrion’s lab in the Department of Periodontology at the Stony Brook School for Dental Medicine are currently working on ways to increase the rate of bone growth and repair using bone grafts. Carrion’s lab focuses on the use of gingival mesenchymal stem cells (GMSCs) to induce growth on bone grafts through a process called seeding, which is akin to placing seeds in soil for plant growth.  

We obtain healthy or diseased tissue from patients in the Dental Clinic, and we extract GMSCs from the tissue,” said undergraduate researcher Angad Singh. “These cells are comparable to BMSCs (bone marrow stem cells), which are currently the standard for the industry. However, GMSCs are advantageous in that they are much easier and cheaper to extract and can differentiate into more kinds of cells.”

Recent research from laboratories in China, Germany and Egypt has led to the conclusion that GMSCs have anti-inflammatory effects, which would make them ideal candidates for treatment of diseases and conditions that exhibit high inflammatory responses in vivo.

According to Singh, seeding bone grafts with GMSCs could substantially cut the time needed to reverse bone loss and mend breaks in addition to providing their endogenous anti-inflammatory characteristics.

The researchers involved have an overarching goal of understanding the changes in bone repair using GMSC-seeded bone grafts in comparison to unseeded equivalents. The lab plans to study the effects of GMSC seeding in mouse models.

Researchers are optimistic that their work will prove right the hypothesis that GMSCs are a more ideal chassis for bone repair than BMSCs. Singh’s goal is that the work will spread to applications in the dental clinic in the future.