Bone regeneration

A research team led by the University of Birmingham has found a way of mimicking our body’s natural healing process, using cell derived nano-sized particles called vesicles to repair damaged tissue according to a paper published today in Scientific Reports.

The team believe that the findings mark the first step in a new direction for tissue regeneration with the potential to help repair bone, teeth and cartilage.

The paper describes the use of extra-cellular vesicles in combination with phosphate therapy, which outperformed the current clinical gold standard (BMP-2) in terms of rate and volume of mineral deposition in in vitro models of bone regeneration.

This novel method is a significant departure from currently available therapeutic approaches. University of Birmingham Enterprise, the technology transfer arm of the University, has patented the approach, with a view to developing a technology that can promote bone formation or regeneration via a kit or device.

Current approaches, based on bone grafting, bone graft substitutes or growth factors such as bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs), have limitations: autologous bone grafts are limited by donor site tissue and cause patient morbidity, and allogenic grafts present a potential source of infection and are often stripped of the many factors that induce tissue regeneration. Growth factor-based approaches are costly and may have serious side effects.

In recent years attention has focussed on cell-based approaches, although translation is frequently prevented by insurmountable regulatory, ethical and economic hurdles. Extracellular vesicles harness the advantages of cell-based therapies but with less concern about immunological risks.

The research team was led by Drs Sophie Cox and Owen Davies from the University of Birmingham.

Dr Sophie Cox, from the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, explained, “Though we can never fully mimic the complexity of vesicles produced by cells in nature, this work describes a new pathway harnessing natural developmental processes to facilitate hard tissue repair.”

Dr Owen Davies, EPSRC E-TERM Landscape Fellow at the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University, said, “It is early days, but the potential is there for this to transform the way we approach tissue repair. We’re now looking to produce these therapeutically valuable particles at scale and also examine their capacity to regenerate other tissues.” 

For further information about Intellectual Property contact: Dr Jonathan Watkins, Head of IP, University of Birmingham, via, or call 0121 414 9090.

For further media information contact: Ruth Ashton, Reputation and Communications Development Manager, University of Birmingham via, or call 0121 414 9090 (out of hours number 07989 558041).

  • The first evidence of a connection between extracellular vesicles and endochondral bone formation was found in the 1960s (endochondrial bone formation is the natural healing process involved in bone repair).
  • In vivo, extracellular vesicles are now known to be responsible for cell-to-cell communication, and to carry biological cargo.
  • Extracellular vesicles are now being investigated for drug delivery systems.
  • Bone regeneration therapies are used to treat fractures and during planned surgical procedures such as spinal fusion.
  • Fracture numbers are expected to double by 2020, putting tremendous strain on healthcare-systems worldwide.
  • Despite the natural regenerative capacity of bone, there are instances when the quantity of bone required is beyond the body’s natural regenerative capacity.

“Annexin-enriched osteoblast-derived vesicles act as an extracellular site of mineral nucleation within developing stem cell cultures” is published in Scientific Reports: 10.1038/s41598-017-13027-6