How belly fat can help bones to heal faster

Stem cells from belly fat could repair bones and speed up patients' recovery after knee replacement surgery, writes Roger Dobson

Stem cells drawn from fatty tissue can be used to repair bones.
Stem cells drawn from fatty tissue can be used to repair bones. Stem cells drawn from fatty tissue can be used to repair bones.

SCIENTISTS have discovered that stem cells - the body's raw materials for repairing itself - can be turned into bone cells by zapping them with sound waves just 10 minutes a day for five days.

The finding was reported in the journal Small and it is hoped these new cells could be used to repair bones; from helping to secure replacement knee joints and dental implants, to spinal surgery and bone defects.

Bones do not always heal on their own. According to a 2019 study in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, one in 10 fractures will not repair themselves without help.

Stem cells are already used to speed up healing; they can improve, replace or regenerate damaged tissues and organs - so-called tissue engineering.

This is because, under the right conditions in the body or in a laboratory, stem cells will divide to form 'daughter' cells which can then be programmed to develop into specific types of cells, such as blood or skin.

However, creating bone cells from stem cells has proved difficult. The sheer number of stem cells required to grow sufficient bone ones - "many millions", according to researchers - makes it problematic.

Harvesting and growing these cells is also very time-consuming and in many cases stem cells are taken from a patient's bone marrow, which can be a very painful procedure.

The new approach using sound waves circumvents these problems. New bone cells can be grown quickly, in a matter of days rather than weeks, and without the need for painful surgery to extract them from bone marrow.

In the study, researchers at Melbourne University in Australia, subjected stem cells taken from human fatty tissue to different sound wave frequencies for around 10 minutes a day for five days.

They found that 10MHz (equivalent to a riveting gun) triggered them to become bone cells, which then produced collagen - a protein that provides a soft framework in bones and is key for bone repair.

Exactly how sound waves do this is unclear, but one theory is that they break down stem cell membranes to trigger the changes which turn them into bone cells. Research is continuing into how that occurs.

The study found the treatment was also effective on stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. More studies are under way.

Dr Amy Gelmi, a senior research fellow who led the study, said the findings have 'strong potential' for joint replacement surgery and bone repair.

"The sound waves cut the treatment time usually required to get stem cells to turn into bone cells by several days," she said.

"This new approach has strong potential for treating stem cells before we either coat them on to an implant [to help cement a joint replacement into place] or inject them directly into the body for tissue engineering [to grow new bone]."

Commenting on the research, Mike McNicholas, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Liverpool University Hospitals, said: "This is very interesting. The use of sound waves on stem cells which can be harvested more easily and with less pain has huge potential to help in the treatment of people with difficult fractures."

© Daily Mail