Stem cells also help broken bones heal, researchers say

Raleigh News & ObserverJune 17, 2008 

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — When Harry Potter breaks his arm in a Quidditch match, the Hogwarts nurse gives him a magic potion called "Skelegro." In the morning, his arm is as good as new.

The possibility of using a potion like Skelegro to treat severe bone fractures may soon be more than the stuff of wizard tales. Medical researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill announced Monday that they have made strides in the technology to rebuild damaged bone tissue using stem cells.

The research team, led by Dr. Anna Spagnoli, an associate professor of pediatrics at UNC, derived the stem cells from bone marrow samples to locate and repair broken bones in mice. Now the work is poised to move to humans.

"What we have done here is shown a reason to move to a real clinical trial," Spagnoli said.

Twenty percent of broken bones cannot heal on their own, affecting 600,000 people in the United States each year. A significant portion of them are women who suffer from osteoporosis, but the problem is not restricted to older patients. Children diagnosed with a condition known as brittle bone disease can suffer from multiple, painful fractures over their lifetimes.

Stem cell technology could significantly reduce healing time, Spagnoli said, noting that the development also could help trauma patients.

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