Researchers at Columbia University grabbed our attention last year when they managed to grow a fully viable section of the jawbone from human stem cells. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the more complex bone structures in the body and it was quite a feat to grow one in vitro. Now, Reuters has produced a great video of Columbia’s work, including a look at the bioreactor used and a brief interview with the head of the project, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic. Check it out below, but watch out for the puns!
The Columbia team was proving a valuable point by choosing the TMJ. As discussed in the original scientific publication in PNAS, Vunjak-Novaokovic and her colleagues weren’t simply demonstrating that they could grow bone, but also that they could grow bone in the exactly correct shape that they needed. In essence, if you can grow an accurate TMJ, you should be able to grow almost any other bone in the body, and even provide personalized grafts for each patient. When fully developed, this technique may allow surgeons to use your own stem cells to create custom fit replacements for damaged or lost bone mass. That has serious implications for everything from orthopedics to face transplants. This technology looks to be just one of many on the path to be able to repair, or replace many portions of the human body. In the future, we may rely on stem cells to generate entirely new limbs, or organs, helping keep us alive and healthy after trauma, or even just extend our lifespan beyond its current limits.
[screen capture and video credit: Reuters]
[source: Lab for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering at Columbia, PNAS]