Israeli gel boosts ability of bones to heal themselves, mice trial finds

Bones already have inbuilt healing ability for small fractures; water-based gel convinces the body that it can regenerate bone over larger gaps

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: A doctor showing an x-ray of a fracture to a patient (DragonImages via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: A doctor showing an x-ray of a fracture to a patient (DragonImages via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli scientists say they have found a way to boost the ability of bones to heal themselves, so they can self-repair in the event of big defects and not just tiny gaps.

Bones have a natural ability to heal themselves across small fractures — in humans, five millimeters or less. For bigger defects, doctors use a range of solutions, often grafting bone from elsewhere in the body or using implants.

But researchers at Tel Aviv University say they can get bones to overcome their natural limit, and grow across large distances to fix themselves. A successful trial with mice, reported in peer-reviewed research, involved a specially developed water-based gel.

“The gel tells the body, or more accurately the immune system, that the defect is not that big and the bone ‘can do it,’” lead researcher Prof. Lihi Adler-Abramovich told The Times of Israel.

“This research is very exciting because it’s enabling bones to regenerate in a way and on a scale that has simply never been possible before.”

Adler-Abramovich said that while small bone defects, such as fractures, heal spontaneously, when there is substantial bone loss — as sometimes arises in the case of tumor removal, physical trauma, tooth extraction, gum disease or inflammation around dental implants — the bone is unable to renew itself.

Prof. Lihi Adler-Abramovich of Tel Aviv University (left) with her research team (courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

The new water-based gel mimics the natural matrix of the bone, making the immune system believe that it needs to repair damaged bone rather than fill a large void. The immune system considers this to be manageable, and sends signals to the bone to grow over the entire space where there is gel.

The mice treated in the study had long-lasting benefits from the treatments, said Adler-Abramovich.

“We monitored them for two months with various methods,” she said. “To our delight, the bone defects were fully corrected through regeneration, with the bones regaining their original thickness and generating new blood vessels.”

She hopes to further develop the gel and carry out more trials — in both orthopedics and dentistry.

“When we lose teeth due to extensive damage or bacterial infections, the standard treatment is dental implants,” she explained. “Implants, however, must be anchored in a sufficient amount of bone, and when bone loss is too substantial, physicians implant additional bone from a healthy part of the body – a complex medical procedure.

“An option exists to add bone substitutes from either human or animal sources, but these might generate an immune response. I hope that in the future the hydrogel we have developed will enable faster, safer, and simpler bone restoration.”

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