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Scientists Find Stem Cell That Can Regenerate Bone And Cartilage

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Researchers have identified a stem cell that is capable of regenerating both bone and cartilage. The discovery could potentially lead to new treatments for bone fractures, damaged cartilage and conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Two separate studies in the United States led to scientists identifying the stem cell in bone marrow of mice. Because mice and humans have similar bone biology, it´s believed that the same stem cells will be found in human bone tissue.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) said that the osteochondroreticular (OCR) stem cells were discovered by tracking a protein expressed by the cells. Using this marker, they found that OCR cells self-renew and generate key bone and cartilage cells, including osteoblasts and chondrocytes. It was also confirmed that OCR stem cells, when transplanted to a fracture site, contribute to bone repair.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at CUMC and a senior author of the study, said that the researchers were now trying to find out whether these cells can be triggered to specifically regenerate after injury.

“Our findings raise the possibility that drugs or other therapies can be developed to stimulate the production of OCR stem cells and improve the body´s ability to repair bone injury – a process that declines significantly in old age,” explained Timothy C. Wang, MD, professor of medicine at CUMC.

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a separate study that identified the same stem cell type.

Commenting on the Stanford study, Michael Longaker, MD, a professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery, said that it “raises the possibility that we can create new skeletal stem cells from patients´ own tissues and use them to grow new cartilage.”

The findings of both teams have been published in the journal Cell.