This surgery 'changes the entire game in orthopedics'

In world first, Israeli undergoes surgery to regrow a bone

Patient Danny has fat cells removed, grown in lab and injected back into his leg, in groundbreaking procedure hailed by doctors as ‘science fiction’

Illustrative: A team of surgeons operating in the hospital (iStock)
Illustrative: A team of surgeons operating in the hospital (iStock)

Groundbreaking surgery to regrow part of a human bone was carried out on Tuesday at HaEmek Hospital in the northern Israeli town of Afula.

Danny, a resident of a nearby kibbutz who had part of his shinbone removed eight months ago after a car accident, was treated in the procedure, which was hailed by medical staff as “science fiction.”

During the surgery, the first of its kind in the world, doctors took fat cells from the patient, grew them in a lab and injected them back into his body for them to generate the missing parts of the bone, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Wednesday.

The procedure was developed several years ago by Israeli biotechnology company Bonus BioGroup. Fat cells are separated from the cells capable of generating tissue and blood vessels, and the latter are grown in a bioreactor, a device that simulates the environment inside the human body and provides optimal condition for bone generation. After two weeks, the process yields tissue that can be transplanted in the patient’s body and regrows the missing parts of the bone.

“We created thousands of tiny bone particles, each one of them alive, which enables us to inject them into the missing part where they join together to form a fully functional bone,” said Dr. Shai Meretzky, CEO of Bonus BioGroup.

The surgery was carried out by Prof. Nimrod Rozen, ‎head of the orthopedic ward at HaEmek.

HaEmek Medical Center Campus. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

“Our patient arrived with a missing part in his shinbone that his body could not regenerate on its own,” he told Yedioth. “In the surgery I transplanted the cells we extracted from him two weeks ago, and within six weeks the bone will regrow itself and his shin will function normally again. This surgery is truly science fiction, it changes the entire game in orthopedics. Today I have the ability to grow any bone in a lab.”

According to Rozen, the new surgery can also help elderly people who suffer from osteoporosis and cancer patients who had amputations. In the future, he contends, it could even be used to make people with dwarfism dozens of centimeters taller.

“In every surgery I can add ten centimeters, and it can be repeated several times,” he said. “This can change the self-esteem of many people.”

Danny, who became the first person in the world to undergo the innovative procedure, said he trusts his doctors. “I am sure they did a good job, and hope that in a few weeks I will be able to stand normally on my foot again.”

In a procedure last month at the same hospital, in what it said was part of a clinical trial, semi-liquid live human bone tissue, which had been grown in a lab from a patient’s fat cells, was transplanted into the patient’s arm by injection.

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