‘Bone in a dish’ opens new window on cancer initiation, metastasis, bone healing

Researchers in Oregon have engineered a material that replicates human bone tissue with an unprecedented level of precision, from its microscopic crystal structure to its biological activity. They are using it to explore fundamental disease processes, such as the origin of metastatic tumors in bone, and as a treatment for large bone injuries.

“Essentially it is a miniaturized bone in a dish that we can produce in a matter of 72 hours or less,” says biomedical engineer Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Dentistry and a member of CEDAR, the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Like real bone, the material has a 3D mineral structure populated with bone cells, nerve cells and endothelial cells that self-organize into functioning blood vessels.

“What is remarkable is that researchers in our field have become used to cultivating cells within a protein mixture to approximate how cells live in the body. But this is the first time anyone has been able to embed cells in minerals, which is what characterizes the bone tissue,” Bertassoni says.

And that’s what makes the new material promising as a model to study bone function, diseases, and bone regeneration. OHSU News has the full story.