Publish Date: 
Monday, May 25, 2020 - 13:45

Scientists based at TRI are developing a new regenerative medicine treatment to help mend fractured bones using stem cells taken from placentas.

Associate Professor Mike Doran (pictured right) from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Institute of Health Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) has received a $100,000 research grant from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s (NSCFA) 2020 Matched Funding Program and Inner Wheel Australia to trial the new treatment in patients.

A/Prof Doran describes the normal healing of damaged bone and other tissues as an elegant cascade of events, with each stage triggering the next, however, some underlying pathologies or events can interrupt this cascade, and the bone ends don’t properly knit together.

“In most cases, bone tissue will repair on its own very efficiently, but in some patients, fractures do not heal, and non-unions form,” says A/Prof Doran.

“This outcome is more common in populations of older people, smokers, or those in the early stages of diabetes. Non-unions also form in healthy individuals, and it is not always clear why the repair process stalled.”

To help fix ‘non-unions’, A/Prof Doran and his team are looking at a treatment where placenta-derived stem cells – more conservatively called placenta-derived stromal cells – could be implanted into the fracture site to promote tissue repair.  

Normally, stem cells produced in the bone marrow are responsible for bone repair. These stem cells, known as mesenchymal stem cells, are believed to repair tissue either by directly contributing to the cells that make up the repair tissue or by secreting factors that upregulate natural tissue repair processes.

It takes about 100 million cells to make a cubic centimetre of tissue, with stem cells acting like small biofactories at the site of the injury, producing the factors needed for healing, according to A/Prof Doran.

“The important thing about placenta-derived stromal cells is that they secrete a lot of growth factors that encourage tissue regeneration,” he said.

“It’s unlikely that placenta stromal cells will make a long-term contribution to new bone cells. Instead, the very large number of placental stromal cells used in the therapy will secrete factors that will ‘kick start’ stalled healing cascades and upregulate natural bone repair processes.”

The scientist says the normally discarded placental tissue is a wonderful resource for stem cells.

“We can get 1000 doses of this treatment from a single donated placenta.”

Once restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic ease, A/Prof Doran will be ready to start safety trials of the treatment. He will be joined by his QUT colleagues at TRI, working in collaboration with the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Woman’s Hospital and at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

“I’m very grateful for the support from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and Inner Wheel Australia,” he says. “Especially at this time. Once we can get through this COVID-19 period, it will be a huge time for cell therapies. They are the next big thing in medicine.”

Further donations to this research project can be made via the NSCFA website – just specify ‘BONE’ when prompted.

This article was first featured in the NSCFA May 2020 Newsletter.