IOWA CITY, Iowa - Aliasger Salem and his research team at the University of Iowa's College of Pharmacy are targeting areas of severely damaged or missing bone.
They use a bridge, or patch, of collagen as a place for bone cells to form.
"It's commonly used in dentistry applications," said Prof. Salem, in a recent interview.
The patch needs proteins that will tell incoming cells to turn into bone cells, and that's where it gets tricky. Salem said you would usually inject those proteins directly into the patch.
"You'd need to give continuous injections, and you'd have to provide a mechanism to get the protein to form at the site where you need to form the new bone," Salem explained.
But he found that loading the patch with a specific type of DNA helps create those proteins automatically.
"They encounter these pieces of DNA, they internalize that DNA, and then the DNA instructs those cells to produce the protein itself," Salem told us, "and then, therefore, it encourages bone formation."
Salem showed us scans comparing a section of animal skull treated with and without the DNA-loaded patch, and the differences are clear.
"It's a dramatic impact," he said.
Salem said this bio patch could rapidly accelerate the healing process for people born with bone defects, or for soldiers with severe battle injuries. However, it's at an expensive early stage of development.
"We also need to do significant tests on safety, both in animal models and humans, before it can be adopted in a clinical setting."
That means it could be another decade before we see it used in operating rooms.