Professor Malcom Snead, PhD, DDS, of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California (USC) has received a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases to create a bioactive nanomaterial that can stimulate bone regeneration. And the work all began with research into a small molecule that occurs naturally in tooth development.
“Later on we found this molecule can promote bone formation,” said Yan Zhou, PhD, a research assistant professor at Ostrow working with Snead.
This discovery opened up a new path of inquiry about the molecule. At the same team, Snead was working with a group at Northwestern University on nanofiber scaffolds. So, the researchers combined their collective expertise to come up with a way to promote bone formation in both long bones in the body and in small craniofacial bones.
The nanofiber scaffold developed in this work will be used on its own or in combination with bone marrow stromal cells rather than with recombinant growth factor, Snead said. The work will facilitate the repair and regeneration of bone by enhancing the bone-forming capacity of a patient’s own native growth factors.
The nanofiber matrix, created by Northwestern professor of materials science, chemistry, and medicine and principal investigator Sam Stupp, PhD, binds the protein by molecular design in the way that natural sugars bind it in our bodies and then slowly releases it to encourage bone growth, instead of in one early burst, which can contribute to side effects.
“This is an example of fundamental research that can improve the human condition,” said Snead, who joined the Ostrow faculty in 1984 and has been the chair of the Division of Biomedical Sciences since 2012. It’s also another way that craniofacial research extends beyond the mouth, the researchers said.
Such an approach could remove the need for recombinant factors for a safer and more effective therapeutic strategy for bone regeneration in spinal fusion and orthopedic applications. Other procedures also could benefit from the nanomaterial, the researchers said, from repair of bone trauma to treatment of bone cancer to bone growth for dental implants.
“If we can use the nanofiber and molecule in low doses, we will have a huge market because without those side effects, it will be much better for patients,” said Zhou.
The grant will allow the group to demonstrate safety and efficacy in animal models for the Food and Drug Administration so they can move more quickly from the lab to the operating room, Snead says.
As he applies fundamental science to a wide array of applications, Snead remembers some career advice he received from his thesis advisor: Do work that is the most fundamental so it will have the greatest impact on the widest number of fields.
“We continue to be driven that way: how cell signaling occurs and how nanotechnology can be used to modify responses that have been developed during hundreds of millions of years of evolution,” said Snead. “Those discoveries keep me up at night as an opportunity. Is there enough time to really explore all of these things and tease out from them where they can be applied to the health of individuals?”