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New ways to grow human ‘mini-bones’

Tuesday, 8 November 2022
Bregje de Wildt explored different ways to grow ‘mini-bones’ in the lab that could be used to test newly developed medicines for bone diseases.

Human bones can recover from small fractures, but if the fractures are too large or the regrowth process is unbalanced, as is the case with osteoporosis, treatment is required. To develop treatments animal experiments are often used, but some treatments developed in this way don’t work in humans. So, Bregje de Wildt for her PhD research has explored ways to grow human ‘mini-bones’ in the lab that could be used to test medicines for treatments, and perhaps in the future, eliminate the need for any animal experimentation when it comes to testing these medicines.

Treatments for bone disorders are often developed via animal experiments. Every year around 500,000 animals are used for experiments in the Netherlands. Worldwide this number is estimated to be around 100 million. “Unfortunately, less than 1 out of 10 treatments developed using animal testing are also effective in humans, which is most likely because the animals used and humans are too genetically different,” says de Wildt.

So, to help evaluate treatments for human bone tissue, de Wildt and her collaborators from the Orthopedic Biomechanics and Bioengineering Bone research groups decided that the best course of action was to use human bone tissue in the first place. “Rather than using a person to test treatments, which would be unethical and risky on many levels, we explored a way to grow living human ‘mini-bones’ in the laboratory,” says de Wildt.