Magnetic bandages that utilize stem cell technology could drastically reduce the number of joint replacement operations needed worldwide annually. New research found that dressings with an infusion of stem cells helped cartilage to regrow in joints. In some cases, the bandages even helped with bone growth, as well.
The magnetism of the bandage activates the stem cells, which are injected into the patient’s problem area beforehand. Stem cells are the body’s raw materials: cells that help generate other cells with specialized functions, like those which regrow tissue. Under the right conditions in the body or a laboratory, stem cells divide to form more cells called daughter cells. The daughter cells either become new stem cells, or become specialized based on their application.
Researchers think the magnetism of the bandage could communicate with the stem cells to begin transforming into reparative tissue. If successful, the treatment could reduce the number of joint replacements significantly (in Great Britain, the NHS performs about 100,000 of the procedures annually — not to mention nearly one million broken bone treatments).
Magnetism and stem cell technology is being tested for many different applications worldwide
Prof Alicia El Haj, of Birmingham University, said the experimental bandage treatment worked better than existing treatments in animals. Her team thinks the treatment would be “quicker, cheaper and much less painful” than traditional surgery for humans.
“You could have it in a GP clinic,” El Haj said.
In theory, the magnetism heats up the stem cells to cause activation. Similar technology is being used in clinical trials to eliminate cancer cells in the body, with similarly positive results.
One exciting study out of the Indian Institute of Science utilized the magnetic bandage to induce a process called magnetic hypothermia. The research involved magnetic nanoparticles being delivered to the tumor site, and then activated with an alternating magnetic field. The field causes the cells to heat up and take out surrounding cancer cells.
“The elevated temperature at the treatment site enables heat to penetrate the tumor cells, rupturing the compact random vasculatures [network of blood vessels] of the tumors,” explains Shilpee Jain, senior author of the paper. “[In contrast], the normal healthy cells, owing to their organized open vasculatures, dissipate the heat to maintain normal temperatures, and so remain unharmed.”