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Skeletal stem cells could regrow damaged bones

It could repair breaks and even fight osteoporosis.
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Shutterstock / kilukilu

Believe it or not, scientists are still discovering new forms of stem cells -- and these latest examples could shake up how doctors treat a multitude of common injuries. A Stanford-led research team has identified the human skeletal stem cell, helping the group create a "family tree" of cells that can regenerate bones and cartilage. You can either isolate them from existing bones or generate them from specialized cells in fat, and they're predictable enough (that is, they'll always make bone tissue) that doctors wouldn't have to worry much about unintended results when using them in treatments.

The breakthrough wasn't a simple affair. To pinpoint the human skeletal stem cell, the scientists couldn't just use the tricks they'd used to isolate the equivalent in mice. They had to compare the mouse's gene expression profiles with those of several human cell types you'd find on the growing ends of human bone. That let the group find cells with similar proteins as the mouse's skeletal stem cells, helping the team find relevant markers on human cells.

The findings will should help understand the nature of human bone, but Stanford noted that it's ultimately interested in medical uses. You could heal broken bones at a faster pace, repair cartilage or even grow new bones for reconstructive surgery. Conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis might be much less serious, as you could generate unaffected bones and cartilage as necessary. This is only the beginning, so any solutions are likely years away. Still, there could be a day when you don't have to worry as much about serious fractures or the effects of aging.

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