Developing stem cell therapies to repair damaged tissue

Michael Longaker, MD, is using stimulus funds to develop a new approach to repairing skeletal damage to the head and face from accidents, birth defects, cancers and other causes. His hope is that doctors may one day use stem cells to regenerate new tissue to heal the ravages of disease and wounds from injuries.

Longaker has received a $2.1 million grand-opportunity grant to work with bone stem cells. His projects aims to extract and isolate these cells from a patient and identify the elements needed to prompt them to multiply and grow into the different bone cells required for the body to form new skeletal structures. He then hopes to find a way to package these stem cells in a gel-like matrix that would let them be returned to the body at the site of the damage, providing scaffolding upon which the new bone would grow.

Longaker's multidisciplinary team will include one newly hired, full-time postdoctoral scholar and one newly hired, part-time technician. His goal is to begin clinical trials in a few years of this point-of-care method for surgical reconstruction of living bone. Such a therapy could enable doctors to heal defects for which there is currently no treatment.

The research could have implications beyond treating crano-facial defects. If successful, the principles that underlie this procedure could be used in stem cell therapies for other tissues in addition to bone. Longaker is deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.