Although doctors have helped broken bones to heal by setting the broken edges together and keeping them there with a cast for many decades, they could not replace lost bone. Bone mass, once lost to injury or illness, could not be regained. However, thanks to modern stem cell technology, that is changing. Dr. Cameron Clokie is developing techniques to regenerate lost bone mass in a way never before accomplished.
At the University of Toronto, Dr. Clokie is the Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He performs his procedures at Mount Sinai Hospital and Toronto General Hospital. He uses a protein that can stimulate adult stem cells (not the controversial kind of stem cells) into becoming bone cells. In effect, he encourages the kind of bone growth that automatically happens in children, but stops when we reach our full growth.
One of Dr. Clokie’s patient was a 58-year-old man who lost seven centimeters of bone tissue on the bottom right side of his jaw because he had a tumor, even though it was benign. According to Dr. Clokie, he was able to take the man’s jawbone back to the embryonic state of bone growth. The man grew the seven centimeters back to replace all the lost tissue. Dr. Clokie accomplished this with a four hour surgery. The man spent only two nights in the hospital, and two weeks later he went skiing. Now all he has is a faint scar on his jaw and some numbness in his lower lip and chin because removing the tumor required cutting a nerve.
Dr. Cameron Clokie added the growth protein to a special gel that liquifies in a freezer but solidifies at room temperatures. He molded that gel into the same shape as the lost bone tissue in the patient’s jaw. Dr. Cokie compared it to using Play-Doh. He placed the gel into the patient’s jaw, supporting it with a titanium rod. Five days later, blood vessels began to grow over the gel, and the gel itself began to dissolve, with bone tissue beginning to grow back.
Researchers at the University of California discovered the bone morphogenetic protein or BMP over fifty years ago.