- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

LONDON — A British hospital has successfully used stem cells to promote healing when fractured bones refuse to mend, saving patients from permanent disability or amputation.

Three patients who had run out of treatment options have handed back their crutches. A total of five out of 10 are making progress but it can take some months for the treatment to begin to work.

Doctors at the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital, are harvesting stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow, growing them and then applying them to the fracture site where they help broken bone grow again and unite.

Dr. James Richardson, consultant surgeon, said: “Some broken bones just don’t heal with conventional treatments and patients can end up on crutches or in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives or be in so much pain that they finally request an amputation.

“With stem cell therapy, we harvest the patient’s own bone marrow, purify out the bone producing cells and stimulate them in a special laboratory to make them multiply. Three to four weeks later, the cells are returned to the patient and implanted at the site of the fracture.

“The stem cells then help to grow new bone and literally ‘knit’ the fracture site together.”

The doctors are planning to use the treatment on another 30 cases and are looking for patients whose fractures were more recent so they can try the stem-cell therapy earlier than in the 10 treated to date.

Jane Figgett, 45, broke her leg six years ago in a minor fall on some steps. She was a trainee nurse with four children, the youngest being 2 at the time of her injury.

It was a difficult fracture and she expected to be in a cast for eight or nine weeks.

But the fracture would not heal. The bone was first pinned, then plated. Then Mrs. Figgett had external rods fixed to hold the bone in place as well as a bone fragment transplant from her hip. Amputation was being considered.

Mrs. Figgett was one of the first patients to receive a stem-cell implant. It has taken six months for progress to be made but there are now signs that the bone is mending and her mobility is improving, a hospital spokesman said.

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