One day, a serious fracture might not take months to heal.
Instead, with the injection of a putty made of stem cells, soldiers and athletes might be back on their feet in two weeks’ time.
Steven Stice, the director of the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center, told a group of Gainesville Rotarians on Monday that researchers he’s working with are collaborating with the Department of Defense to develop the putty for soldiers in the field.
The research, which has been successful in rats and is currently being tested on sheep and goats, could one day also possibly save the lives of horses, which are normally put down after suffering a broken leg.
Stice was part of the team that cloned the first cattle in 1998, named “George” and “Charlie,” and is one of the nation’s leading stem cell research developers.
He spoke about some of his research at the Gainesville Rotary Club on Monday.
He said the hope is that the fracture putty might reduce the number of amputations done on soldiers in the field.
“The idea of being able to fix a fracture faster can get that person back into active lifestyle sooner, and that’s very important for their mental health as much as their physical health going forward,” Stice said.
Stice and other researchers use stem cells from adults and human embryos, a more controversial matter, to further their research.
He told the Gainesville Rotary Club that human stem cells may be becoming more helpful in medicinal research than rats and mice, which can accurately predict whether a drug will be toxic or effective in helping humans only about 50 percent of the time.
“I can flip a coin and do just as well as those rats and mice,” Stice said. “So human cells are going to be very important.”
He said that researchers are still using the same cells to develop new medicines today that they obtained from human embryos 12 years ago.
He said the original embryos would have been discarded in a fertility clinic, because they would have been unable to produce a viable offspring. He likened the use of those embryos for research to organ donation.
“The whole idea that we need to derive new ones constantly, that we are taking embryos that could be used for human fertility is totally nonsense,” Stice said.
Along with his work to develop the fracture putty, stem cells are aiding Stice, another University of Georgia researcher, Frank West, and a group of transplant surgeons at Emory Hospital in an effort to modify pigs’ immune systems to make them more like human systems.
The changes might then allow the researchers to transfer the pigs’ islets, or cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, into humans without the body rejecting those cells.
The process could be a long-term treatment for childhood diabetes, Stice said.
The men are also using a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a disease-resistant chicken for villages in sub-Saharan Africa.