Send a link to a friend
[DEC. 26, 2006]
-- Five years from now, human testing might be under way on the
fruits of a large-scale research project that includes the
University of Illinois
Department of Animal Sciences. In essence, the project seeks to
grow new bone and other tissue in humans by using techniques
perfected in swine.
"Pigs are a good biological model for humans," explains Matt
Wheeler, a professor in the department who is also affiliated with
the U of I's Institute for
Genomic Biology. "Because of the biological similarities, pigs
provide good opportunities to work out technologies before you go to
Wheeler's portion of the project -- which also
involves Russ Jamison and Amy Wagner-Johnson of the College of
Engineering and Dr. Michael Goldwasser, a maxillofacial surgeon with
the U of I College of Medicine -- deals with developing technologies
to generate therapies to replace bone lost in humans due to cancer
of the jaw, severe periodontal disease and traumatic injury.
Larry Schook, also of the U of I Department of Animal Sciences
and leader of the regenerative biology and tissue engineering theme
for the Institute for Genomic Biology, is also part of the larger
project funded by the
Regenerative Medicine Institute, a state agency.
"I'm working on developing methods to isolate and purify cells
that can be used in the studies by building technologies to isolate
cells from adult stem cells and purify them for use," he says.
Eventually, Schook says, the findings in pigs could be applied to
humans to address a range of diseases and injuries that destroy
"For instance, heart attacks and strokes destroy muscles and
tissues," he says. "What if you could use adult stem cells to
regenerate those damaged tissues? There could be many opportunities
to help the healing process."
One example is the growing need for knee replacements in young
women who are injured playing sports at a young age. When they
finally need knee replacement surgery, the artificial equipment
involved will last only about 10 to 15 years.
[to top of second column]
"That means a young woman could face a number of knee replacement
surgeries throughout her lifetime," Schook says. "But if you could
get the body to regenerate that damaged tissue, you eliminate the
need for surgery."
Wheeler's work involves the specific problems associated with
"Now, if someone loses a portion of the jawbone due to disease or
injury, you have to go somewhere else in their body -- the ribs, for
example -- to find bone to replace it," he says. "That can be
terribly painful, plus involve extensive surgeries."
Wheeler and his colleagues are taking an interdisciplinary
approach to develop "scaffolds" upon which the body can rebuild bone
through the use of cells that are "pushed" toward regeneration.
The "scaffolds" essentially involve materials that are compatible
with the body and around which the cells can rebuild tissue. The
engineers are focusing on this work.
"I've developed some robotic methodologies that push cells toward
making bone," says Wheeler. "We're using adult pig stem cells from
fat and bone marrow, and we've had some success in vitro and with
the scaffolds in some animals."
This work is also partially funded by the Illinois Regenerative
In the future, patients needing some form of bone replacement
could simply have 5 grams of fat removed from their body, harvested
for stem cells and then have the cells used to rebuild the necessary
"We're hoping that within the next couple of years we'll have a
good handle on the swine model for this process," says Wheeler.
"Then on to clinical trials, and perhaps we'll see studies in humans
within five years."
of Illinois Extension news release]