This Company Turns Your Fat Into Living Bone Grafts | Buzz It up

This Company Turns Your Fat Into Living Bone Grafts

Soon you could get a new bone FedExed to your door in 48 hours.

People fracture, break and lose parts of their bones for all kinds of reasons: trauma, infections and tumors, to name a few. Or osteoporosis, a condition that’s so common, researchers say 50% of women will suffer from it at some point in their lives.

Shai Meretzki with a piece of lab-grown bone tissue. | Israel21c.org

Most of the time, when bones break, they heal themselves. But there’s a bunch of reasons why they might not: Some breaks are too complex — the bone shatters into lots of little parts. Things like diabetes, cigarette smoking and injuries can reduce blood flow to your bones, which prevents them from healing quickly.

As a result, lots of people have to get plastic or metal screws, rods and plates inserted into their bodies. For kids, those operations are especially hard, because the artificial implant has to be replaced every year or so as the kid gets bigger.

But now, a biotechnology company claims to have solved those issues. Bonus Biogroup, an Israeli company, says it can implant living bones in your body that grow as you do.

Bonus Biogroup published a press release in late December 2017 announcing that it had successfully implanted a live bone graft into the leg of a car crash victim who had lost two inches of bone in his leg. The company says it grew the bone from fat cells it took from the 28-year-old patient using liposuction.

Before coming to Bonus Biogroup, the guy’s doctor had made two unsuccessful attempts to fix his leg with a bone graft, a process that involves taking a small piece of bone from somewhere else on the body and transplanting it to the gap where his leg broke.

Bonus Biogroup’s lab. | Reuters/Baz Ratner

Bonus Biogroup’s transplant was the first time in history that a live bone graft had been implanted in a patient’s leg, Shai Meretzki, the company’s president and CEO, told OMGFacts by phone this week from his lab in northern Israel.

“We’d done it in patients’ jaws and hands, but the leg is harder because it bears so much weight,” Meretzki, 48, said.

Like Science Fiction

Bonus Biogroup’s method is straight out of a sci-fi movie.

The 40-person team extracts fat tissue from a patient and puts it into a bioreactor, a machine that functions kind of like a person’s body.

courtesy of Bonus Biogroup

Next, the biochemists isolate a bunch of different types of cells from that fat tissue. Over the next two weeks, they grow it into thousands of tiny pieces of living bone tissue, which they then inject, bit by bit, into the gap in their patient’s bone that needs to be filled.

Because the bone transplant comes straight from the patient’s body, there’s no danger of it being rejected, said Meretzki. “The body accepts it very nicely,” he said.

Within 24 hours of the injections, the bone particles adhere to one another and become solid.

A researcher with a lab-grown bone at Bonus Biogroup’s lab in 2016. | Reuters/Baz Ratner

It takes longer — a period of weeks, Meretzki said — for the man-made bone filling (which the company calls “BonoFill”) to become strong. Within two months, though, the filling is stronger than the original bone. Bonus Biogroup claims it can eventually become up to seven times stronger than a human bone.

100% Success Rate

People who are born with one leg shorter than the other can also benefit from this technology: Not long ago, Bonus Biogroup successfully elongated the leg of a sheep.

“We can take a bone that’s 10 centimeters [four inches] and double its length,” Meretzki said.

When asked if he ever feels like God, Meretzki said, “No, but it’s always great to be able to help people.”

But can this futuristic procedure really help people — or is it too good to be true?

Only time will tell. “We won’t know for another couple of months if our leg implant really worked,” Meretzki said. “But we haven’t heard anything bad yet.”

Bonus Biogroup has had success with past experiments. In a recent clinical trial involving two dozen patients who’d lost large parts of their jawbones from aging, infection or trauma, all the patients’ jaws were completely healed within two months after getting injections of BonoFill.

Coming To America

Bonus Biogroup is a public company that’s traded on the Tel Aviv stock exchange, meaning its funding comes from regular people buying company shares. Israel is known for its tech prowess: The country invented USB sticks, tiny pills that video record the inside of your digestive tract and a lot of the tech inside your smartphone.

Bonus Biogroup says it’s bringing its tech to the U.S. soon. In order to get FDA approval, the company plans to do a clinical trial in the U.S. next year.

If it gets government approval, U.S. citizens will be able to receive Bonus Biogroup’s live bone grafts sometime in the next few years.

“We can take fat tissue from anyone, grow a new bone, and within two weeks send them a new, viable bone created from their own cells,” Meretzki said. “We FedEx it. Usually it gets to the patient within 48 hours.”

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