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New techniques in tissue engineering could help cancer patients

Scientists from the University of Michigan are combining standard tissue engineering techniques with seemingly unrelated therapies in an effort to improve treatment options for patients with oral and facial cancers.

The techniques of tissue engineering have been used in many applications already. Those techniques generally involve harvesting a sample of cells, modifying them using genetic engineering and then reintroducing them into a damaged area using a biodegradable "scaffold" to hold the cells in place while they grow.

However, certain applications of tissue engineering in the facial and oral structures present unique problems.

"Regenerating the jawbone of a person undergoing radiation therapy for cancer means managing the constant bombardment of mouth bacteria and damage from radiation," according to Dr. Paul H. Krebsbach, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and chair of its Department of Biologic and Material Sciences. "Gene therapy may overcome the damaging effects of radiation, but we foresee the potential of obtaining maximal results through a combination of therapies."

The combination therapies could include the use of parathyroid hormone, a naturally produced hormone that can stimulate bone growth and regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body, Dr. Krebsbach said.

Pairing injections of the hormone with gene therapy for bone morphogenetic proteins – which can induce bone formation - could enable scientists to steer cells to form specific kinds of bone during tissue engineering.

"Together, these therapies have the potential to be more effective than single therapies for bone regeneration and to overcome compromised environments," Dr. Krebsbach said.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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