British scientists are testing injectable stem cells that can be guided around the body with a magnet. [via dailymail]
Once they reach the diseased or damaged bone, they turn into new bone and cartilage.
Researcher Professor Alicia El Haj, of Keele University, said: 'The ultimate aim is to repair cartilage and bone.
'We should be able to move to human trials within five years.'
The treatment centres on stem cells - 'blank' cells with the ability to turn into other cell types - drawn from a person's own bone marrow.
They are then coated with tiny magnetic particles before being injected into the body.
A magnet, in the form of a cuff or a bracelet, is used to guide them to where they are needed.
The magnetic field also provides the trigger needed for the stem cells to turn into bone and cartilage.
The treatment could be used to mend fractures as well as to provide an alternative to joint replacements for osteoarthritis patients.
Professor Al Haj said patients could be given stem cell jabs in their doctor's surgery, removing the need for expensive hospital stays.
She added: 'It's really cheap. It doesn't involve expensive drugs. Magnetic particles are really cheap. It's really exciting.'
Other British scientists have successfully used stem cells to treat patients with hip problems.
The Southampton University technique combines the person's own stem cells with donor bone cells to patch up damaged bones that would otherwise be held together with metal plates and pins.
Those treated include a man left in pain by a cyst that was eating away at his hip bone.
Researcher Richard Oreffo said: 'This was a patient who was in tremendous groin pain and was kept awake at night and this allowed us to alleviate those issues.'
Although just four patients have been treated so far, the operations are an important step in the quest for an off-the-peg treatment for fractures and bone disorders.
Professor Oreffo told the UK National Stem Cell Network's annual conference: 'The surgeon would like a simple product they could just lift out and drop into the patient.
'All of this is incremental but each is vital in allowing this to work.'
Professor Robert Nerem, of the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, said stem cell science had much to offer medicine, both as a treatment and as a way of allowing scientists to test new drugs.He said: 'In a sense we have a long way to go and yet the potential is just absolutely exciting.'
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