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Treatment targeting better broken bone-mending shows promise

July 20, 2020

Eye, skin, and bone treatment research selected for fundraising boost

A new regenerative medicine treatment to help mend broken bones is the first of four projects chosen to receive donations through the Foundation’s 2020 Matched Funding Program.

Associate Professor Mike Doran from Queensland University of Technology is exploring the potential of special cells taken from placentas to repair non-union bone fractures.

While we’ve reached the cap for matching funding to this project, we’re happy to pass on new donations to Mike and his colleagues. You can contribute via our website – just specify ‘BONE’ when prompted. We are also still seeking donations to match for Bernie Tuch’s diabetes project and James Chong’s heart project.

“Everyone knows someone who has broken a bone,” explains Mike. “In most cases, bone tissue will repair on its own very efficiently.

“However, in some patients, fractures do not heal, and non-unions form.  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.”

Mike 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,” he explains.

Mike thinks 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.  

Mesenchymal stem cells are thought 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.

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

Mike says it takes about 100 million cells to make a cubic centimetre of tissue. In this instance, these cells act like small biofactories at the site of the injury, producing the factors needed for healing exactly where they’re needed.

“And we’re getting them from placental tissue, which is normally discarded. The placenta is a wonderful resource! We can get 1000 doses of this treatment from a single donated placenta.”

Once restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic ease, Mike will be ready to start safety trials of the treatment. He will be joined by his colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology at the Translational Research Institute, working in collaboration with the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Woman’s Hospital and at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

We’re thrilled to share the news that this project has already reached the $100,000 target, thanks to a $50,000 donation from Inner Wheel Australia, the local arm of the international women’s community group formed by a group of wives of Rotary International club members in 1924.

The group has a 20-year history of sponsoring cord blood research, choosing a medical research field aligned with their membership, which is largely made up of mothers and wives. Sponsoring clinical trials involving placental cells was therefore a natural fit.

Mike’s first research grant, many years ago, was from Inner Wheel Australia for a cord blood project he was working on.

“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.”

The other selected projects

We will share more information about the three other projects, outlined briefly below, in our next newsletter.

  • Dr Tom Edwards from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and the University of Melbourne is working on gene therapy for inherited retinal diseases.
  • Professor John Bateman from Murdoch Children's Research Institute is researching genetic disorders of bone and cartilage.
  • Professor Mark Shackleton is from the Cancer Development and Treatment Group Laboratory at the Alfred Hospital and Monash University seeks to develop new treatments for the skin pigment disorder vitiligo, and for melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer.


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