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The blood-forming tissue inside our bones may be a gold mine for 21st-century oral health and beyond, thanks to innovative research from an NIDCR scientist.
A new clinical research facility just coming online aims to harvest bone marrow stromal cells (a type of "support" cells) and use them to nurse damaged tissues to begin the healing process. Pamela Robey, Ph.D., chief of NIDCR's Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch in its Division of Intramural Research, is leading a novel, trans-NIH project that will harness the healing power of the bone marrow stromal cells. These seemingly magical cells can be coaxed to become cartilage, bone, marrow, or fat.
The Bone Marrow Stromal Cell Transplantation Center is now establishing procedures to process donor marrow into clinical-grade human bone marrow stromal cells that can reconstruct bones of the head and face. The hope is that since bone marrow stromal cells are easily accessible, they may also find use for treating other conditions such as joint and connective tissue disorders. According to Robey, recent studies suggest that the cells are also useful for tamping down the immune system, which is necessary for treating autoimmune disease and other conditions. Robey and her team continue to look for ways to grow large quantities of bone marrow stromal cells in a clinical setting. This includes finding surface markers or molecular bar codes to identify them precisely after growing them in culture, and getting the cells to grow as they do during normal development in a three-dimensional environment built from various different types of biomaterials. Dozens of investigators, representing 13 NIH Institutes and Centers, have expressed interest in using bone marrow stromal cells for a range of purposes. The Center will operate out of the NIH Clinical Center Department of Transfusion Medicine to ready the cells for diverse clinical protocols. Robey will co-coordinate the project with Harvey G. Klein, M.D., Chief of the NIH Clinical Center Department of Transfusion Medicine.