Can Synthetic Bones Replace Bone Marrow Transplants?

People with Leukemia and other bloodborne diseases would have to undergo a lengthy process of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill off the cancer cells.

However, doing these procedures come with a lot of side effects.
One, it may induce nausea and vomiting (frequent at that). Two, it may kill off your immune system as well- something that might lead to further complications down the line.
One way to treat such conditions would be to conduct a bone marrow transplant where healthy stem cells from a patient’s body (or one that of a compatible donor) are extracted from the body and will be transplanted back after a couple of chemotherapy sessions.
Shyni Varghese of the University of California, San Diego, wants to create a new way to skip this step. In order to skip the process of chemotherapy, thereby eliminating all of the cells in the body of the patient, Varghese and her team have created a synthetic bone that actually acts like bone marrow.
This new bone can be filled with stem cells and will be transplanted into the patient’s body. The stem cells can either be from the patient’s body or from a compatible donor. Although this procedure hasn’t been done in human subjects, this was actually quite successful in mice.
In a press release, Varghese said that they have made an accessory bone that can accommodate the patient’s own stem cells or that of a donor. By doing this, we can completely eliminate the irradiation process and proceed with the manner of treating the patient’s condition.


The Synthetic Bone

The artificial bone transplants are made of two layers of hydrogel matrices. The inner layer consists of the stem cells and the outer layer contains calcium phosphate minerals. The synthetic bone was transplanted into the skin of the affected mice and after a month, the bone was extracted. She then discovered that the transplant contains blood cells that come from the host mice and some of the donor blood cells as well.

The synthetic bone was then planted back into the mice and after six months, Varghese found that all of the cells that are inside the bone started circulating into the mice’s system. Varghese told KPBS that the transplanted bones pretty much acted like the mice’s own tissue.
In an interview with New Scientist, Professor Emeritus of Hematology at St. George’s University of London, Edward Gordon-Smith, said that the study was a remarkable achievement and may serve as a means for treating patients with bloodborne diseases without killing off the cells in their bodies first.
However, no matter how useful this study was, Varghese implied that the procedure would only work for people who are suffering from non-malignant bone marrow conditions such as low blood cell counts, aplastic anemia, and where immune cells attack the patient’s own bone marrow.
The procedure, then, will not be useful if the patient is suffering from Leukemia. In this case, the patient would have to undergo the same procedure where they would be run through a gauntlet of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.