Cadaver bones can replace injured or diseased bone, but up to a third of these grafts fail because they cannot repair microscopic cracks from normal wear and tear, unlike living bone. Resurrecting dead bones could give patients an option to amputation. Molecular immunologist Edward Schwarz of the University of Rochester and his colleagues compared mice that had healthy and dead bone implants and found that living bone significantly expresses two genes involved in blood vessel growth and old bone reabsorption. The researchers incorporated these genes into a freeze-dried virus, which they coated onto dead femur bone grafts. The genes induced the body to supply blood to the dead bone, thereby revitalizing it. New bone formation did not occur uniformly on graft surfaces, but the team found other genes that might improve the approach's efficacy. The full discussion appears in the March Nature Medicine.
This article was originally published with the title "Dead Bones to Life" in Scientific American 292, 5, 36 (May 2005)